I still enjoy my time in Lord of the Rings Online, like an old baggy bathrobe it has become a comfortable fit, something I turn to when I’m in the sort of mood which in other people requires snuggling down in front of the television with a box of chocolates, a glass of wine and apparel which makes no demands – it is simply happy to cover your modesty and keep you warm. Still, I continue to look for a new game which is a more daring outfit, the sort that perhaps pinches in painful places, exposes me in ways that make me feel somewhat uncomfortable, and causes old women to cluck and mutter under their breath as I walk past. Sometimes you want something which takes some effort to enjoy, a little bit of hardship even, just so that in the end you can feel fabulous about yourself; it’s not the sort of thing you do all the time, but it’s the time that you look forward to most in an otherwise weary week.
As such, my desktop is slowly filling up with icons for free-to-play MMOs as I rummage around the offerings of various game companies while, if I’m honest to myself and with you, I wait for Guild Wars 2 and, to a lesser extent, Star Wars: The Old Republic. I have Dungeons & Dragons Online and the aforementioned Lord of the Rings Online as permanent fixtures on the desktop now, bastions of good gaming grind; there is less excitement to be had from them than in times past, but they are reliable and spacious, and unlikely to split embarrassingly at the crotch if I move too quickly in them.
Ryzom was one of the first of the experimental diversions, a game which, in outfit metaphors, was at first difficult for me to even to put on (hint: temporarily turn off any anti-virus software you have running while you install it), but now that I’m wearing it I’m not sure what to think. It is the tight-fitting, calf length frock coat and bulging cravat of a Victorian era gentleman, an old school outfit with little compromise towards comfort or convenience. Yet there is something romantic about it, something strangely compelling about the way it shows so little yet suggests so much about the character it coats. I was not able to walk far before I felt stifled by the restrictiveness of this strange older way of doing things, and I had to take it off. Yet. And yet, I look longingly at the icon sitting on my desktop, and I see other people who wear Ryzom with ease and I marvel at the romantic figures they describe, which leaves me yearning to wear it again and be like them. So I return to it every now and again, when the mood takes me, and each time I find that I’m able to wear it for a little longer; it doesn’t feel comfortable yet, but the familiarity is increasing and thus the discomfort is decreasing in kind.
Black Prophecy has yet to be worn for some reason which I can’t explain. I’ve tried Spiral Knights just the once so far, and my initial thought is that it will be like wearing a giant comedy nappy, either seen as silly or a fetish for someone of my age, depending on your position. I imagine that it will probably be comical, an enjoyable guilty pleasure, fitting snugly around the important bits, but probably not being quite as absorbent as one would expect.
Last night I installed Forsaken World. I haven’t got terribly far as of yet, possibly because I was struggling with the shell-shock of the thing. Gawking at my character’s level two outfit (as seen to the right) is probably partly responsible for this. And like the character, this game is a Dr. Frank-N-Furter outfit for me: familiar but uncomfortably so, it breaks things down to the essentials, but perhaps goes a little too far and exposes one a little too much. The finest example of this so far being the auto-route system. The text of each quest objective in your quest log is highlighted in green, and if you click on this green text the game will ‘auto-route’ you to that objective. It will walk you from where you are, right to the quest objective. Hands-free questing. So it’s the outfit equivalent of a hairy gentleman such as myself dressing-up in a bra, knickers and suspenders: there’s a level of freedom to it and it’s invigorating, but somehow it still feels naughty and wrong to bypass the natural order of things and expose everything for such easy examination under a harsh light. Perhaps the auto-routing is just available in the tutorial, I don’t know, but I have to wonder what meeting of minds went on to determine that players would either be so thick, or the design of the world was so confusing, that it would be in the best interest of everyone if the game took over and just did most of the work.
It seems a crazy emergence that game design in MMOs is constantly trying to find new and awkward ways to prevent players from progressing too fast, so that they don’t consume the levelling content too quickly, when all the while the genre adds features such as precise coordinates to quest objectives, which evolve into actual map markers, which themselves evolve waypoint appendages, all of which has now ascended and floats around our world like the foetus in 2001, in the form of auto-routing.
Blimey, that Forsaken World outfit would put a Witch Elf to shame, please tell me that’s not in-game Heavy Plate Armour… And what’s that on your back, some sort of weapon or a Portable Midget Crucifixion Kit?
Alas, I didn’t actually examine the stats of the armour, primarily perhaps because I spent an hour wondering where my armour had vanished to when I’d right-clicked it in my inventory, because it clearly hadn’t appeared on my character.
She doesn’t use the crucifix in combat, so I can only assume that is just an additional part of her entire post-ironic bondage ensemble.
You should see the side-on view, it’s like witnessing the prototype output of a joint venture between a plastic surgery and a space hopper factory. In fact, here you go:
Ah, Ryzom. It brings back some memories of Atys, with its beautiful landscapes and a “real feel” of a world where mobs don’t follow the universal “1 mob per 10 square meters” rule (change the units to feet or yards if you prefer). Too bad the game was dead, with no prospect of revival, stuck in mid-80 game design, endless grind and, real real bad for a MMO, a completely insignificant amount of players for a world of that size. It has gone F2P recently, maybe I should log in again. In the end I was just using as a chat with nice graphics, which was not enough to justify the subscription. But their F2P conversion is weird, I’ve not really understood if I can get back my old character. The good thing is that they have a native linux client now.
I’m still in the tutorial at the moment, but it’s definitely a change from the norm. I particularly liked an early quest where I had to go and rescue a crying boy. When I got to him he asked me for my gear because he was cold and his had been stolen by bandits. I decided I didn’t want to do that. He asked again, and again I said no. Then on the third refusal he said something along the lines of “Ah, you’re not as foolish as you look. Get him, boys!” and he turned into a bandit leader. That was quite a neat twist to things, especially so early on in the tutorial stage.
The skill system seems quite complex, almost needlessly so, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it. And the cast times are, at the moment, incredibly long – ‘queue the next one up and go and make a cup of tea in the meantime’ long. I do like the queue display system though, where it shows an icon for your current ability, the cast bar, and then the icon for the next ability you have queued. That’s a sensible and compact UI element, to my mind.
There’re definitely things to like about Ryzom, but you have to approach it with an open mind, especially with respect to the concerns which you’ve already outlined in your comment.
I have to agree though, I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be playing it at all if it weren’t for the free-to-play option.
Ah you’re new to Ryzom. Sorry, I misunderstood that you knew it.
Comparing it to WoW is easy: WoW is a very good game, and a very bad world. Ryzom is a very good world, but a very bad game.
Take your time on the starting area, but don’t take TOO much time, there are wonderful places to see on Atys (BTW which server? Arispotle?), but completing the starting area is useful.
Skill cast times are indeed slow, sometimes intentionally so, you have some degree of customization. I’m sure you saw that skills (or better “actions”) are in reality composed of atomic elements (stanzas) which give you complete control on how you want your skills to work, and which tradeoffs you’re ready to make.
The system is a great idea, but it’s plagued by one fundamental problem: while you have a ton of choices, you have very little sensible choices, so you quickly converge to an “optimal” solution (which may vary a bit with context), and stay there.
Crafting is very well done: items cannot be bought from NPC (except basic ones) and neither they are looted. All comes from crafting, and items cannot be repaired. As a result, having a good weapon is nice, but knowing someone who can craft them is vital in the long term. The interesting thing about crafting is that the final stats of the item depend on the mix of materials you use to craft them, so knowing the “recipe” as well as knowing where to get the materials (looted or gathered) is important.
The big problem with the skill system (crafting included) is that the only way to increase a skill is to practice it: so raising skills is just an endless/mindless grind (crafting in particular, for XP you can craft any crap you like…). Add in that there are tons of skills and it gets depressing very fast. Of course you don’t “need” levels or gear, but this is also true in any other game….. still, if you want to group with people and not feel like being carried around, raising some skills becomes important.
Travelling around is very hard and it’s probably the most interesting activity. You can do it to get to some hard-to-find material, or just to look around. The population of mobs is dynamic and can change with season, so some areas may be impossible to cross at times. They also are separated in predator/prey, so for example one way of avoiding predators is to pass by while they are busy with some prey…. Overall mobs are extremely strong and social (= you pull one, you get 10), aggro ranges vary across types. In the beginning it’ll be hard to move around, but as you learn about the mob types and their habits you’ll be able to travel and see many places. As a matter of fact, in the end I was only caring about traveling around to see places, and dropped all the rest of the game completely.
Auto-routing is hardly a new concept. I first ran across it in Atlantica Online and it seems every new Asian F2P offering has it as a standard feature nowadays.
Once you get used to it, you become really irritated that more MMO’s don’t have this feature much like the AOE looting in Rift.
@Helistar: Fascinating stuff, thanks for the numerous hints, tips and warnings. It’s definitely a game that I want to carry on looking into; at least now I am forewarned of some of the pitfalls.
@Winged Nazgul: In fairness I didn’t say that it was new (although it’s new to me), I just tried to state that it seems to be the culmination of the evolutionary path which removes any effort on the player’s part in having to find quest objectives.
Interesting comparison, but AoE looting seems to be much more the sort of convenience factor which doesn’t affect the nature of game-play: there’s no challenge in having to click on five different corpses. Finding quest objectives, however, seems to me to be quite a fundamental part of a quest-based MMO levelling system. If you remove that part, then why not just teleport players straight to the mobs they have to kill, or plants they have to gather? And if you do that, then why not just teleport the mobs to the player? The only thing you’d be removing is the time it takes to auto-route to a location. And if developers want to slow players down still, then just make the player wait five minutes before teleporting the mobs in…
An extreme exaggeration, of course. But then again I imagine that to an EverQuest player (back in the day) auto-routing would have seemed like an extreme exaggeration of how the genre was going to develop.
Perhaps it’s the Explorer in me talking, but auto-routing just seems like another symptom of why we seem to have seen an increase in this ‘race to level-cap and quit from boredom’ mentality in large sections of the MMO genre, and also why games seem to have to introduce ludicrous grinds because their levelling content alone can’t keep players entertained for any significant length of time.
I acknowledge, however, that this has been a successful formula in the Asian MMO market for many years, so it may not be a valid argument outside of the Western MMO perspective.
I saw the grind element when I did my time in Ryzom for my Challenge. The thing is, ya, every game had a ‘grind’ and it’s all what you make of it. I freaking hate questing so I’d rather just ‘grind’ out some crafts to increase my skills, or what have you.
Ryzom was a good experience and I would argue that it is not a BAD game, as you said, but a different game. It may not be for you (you almost sound burned out of it) but that doesn’t make it bad.
And while I’m at it I may as well touch off a war and just say, for the record, that wow is NOT a very good game- quite the opposite I think. It’s sugar coated candy mush.
That said I’m not sure if I could play Ryzom for an extended period of time given the low player pop and the lack of pvp. I hope to come back to it in the final stages of my challenge ad give it a proper play in the areas beyond the starter zone.
Auto-routing shouldn’t deter explorers except maybe games with auto-routing tend not to have too many throwaway areas that reward exploring. It’s an optional thing; if you don’t want to use it, you can still run around and get lost the old-fashioned way.
@Gankalicious: my definition “good game” “bad game” come from a very down-to-basics approach. Something which allows me to log in (or put on a table) and have fun right-now-from-the-start is for me a “good game”. WoW works well, because of the easy grouping, huge population and diverse activities.
Ryzom has a very small population (so the fun factor from being in a group is hard to find), together with some design errors which mar the good ideas they build upon and contribute to a feeling of a lack of direction. It was an interesting experience, but in the end I just had no reason to log in, and moved elsewhere.
What I do with tabletop games is that I play them with friends as long as we have fun playing them. When it becomes boring we buy a new one and move on. I tend to do the same with MMOs: I can stand a solo part as long I have new things to find out, then I need a group. And when I’m bored I dump them. Actually, from reading the blogs, I think this goes against the way many people play and “live” MMOs….
Quests and auto-routing: Questhelper, with its approach of putting the position of quest objectives on the map, was the worst and the best thing to happen to questing.
The worst because it turned the whole questing experience into grinding mode. You don’t need to read the text, you don’t need to find where to go or what to do. Just press buttons and it happens. The immediate side effect was the quest of the “explorer” quest texts: since the map nicely draws a marker at the spot, why care about providing hints in the text and letting people find out? Right now most of the quests just cannot be done without the marker on the map, as from reading the text you would never be able to find the right place.
The best is because quests can tell a story and you can focus on it instead of wandering around. Believe it or not, I like the feeling of the new revamped Cataclysm quests: linear and unchallenging. I don’t really care if I’m not affecting the world, when I read a book I’m not affecting the world, either. And I don’t care if to kill 4 foozles I can press random buttons, when I read a book I don’t have to solve a differential equation just to turn the page (which would make for a pretty hardcore reading experience… :P). Of course replayability goes the way of the dodo, just like reading a book the second time is rarely done. Still, the new Darkshore area was really nice to play (or maybe I should say read), of course doing it a second time would not feel as good (I’ll do it when I don’t remember much about it, just like I reread old books which I liked).
Sigh…I’m crap at picking fights. Point taken- any game you can have fun in is, by definition of the individual- a good game. No blog war then- damn! How am I going to get my page views up now? Must I be forced into writing interesting things? Bugger.
@Winged Nazgul: Good point; I do wonder though if there is a danger that designers will no longer feel the need to design zones, quest routes, and the like, in a way that takes into consideration those players who might be trying to discover things for themselves. I think thoughtful design still has to go into this for it to be a success.
@Helistar, @Gankalicious: No blog war, but good points and valid opinions all round. Thank you both for keeping it pleasant and civilised.
Just keep writing Gank, and they will come. Or so I was told back in 2007. But I was young and innocent back then.
My word, I just realized that she’s simultaneously showing off cleavage, side-boob and under-boob while still loosely fitting the definition of being clothed.
I think there’s something to be said about freeing up the environments-design from having to lead players to where the quest objectives are, and instead just focus on aesthetics. So while zones might not be easy to navigate, they might make for a better experience for those who take the path less traveled — all the while enjoying the nice view. Just a thought.
It is quite the exhibition of boobage, and no mistake.
I think there’s probably a balance to be struck between aesthetics and game-play. If you have a ravine that players will naturally be funnelled down by the nature of the landscape, then it makes sense to place your ambush event in there; don’t have things at the top of the ravine’s walls, where players have to spend a frustrating time fighting your vertical ascent algorithms in order to negotiate their way up there. That sort of thing.
I think there’s still a lot to be discovered and invented with respect to guiding players through open worlds. Single player games often give the illusion of freedom while actually having the game on rails. MMOs are like ocean cruises, where quests hubs are destinations where the players disembark, have a bit of a tourist-like look around of the local area, and then get back on the cruise and off to the next quest hub destination. Sandbox games such as Oblivion probably point the way to a more open approach to the way players are shepherded through environments, but there’s obviously also the danger of making things too open to the point where players become demotivated because there’s no sense of structure to their character’s story.
A tricky thing to balance, but one that’s well worth some consideration.
I am GRUNTLED that you are checking out FW. Or FW’s boobies. I’m not sure which. XD
Re: Autorouting – it’s really, really nice actually. I view it as a stress-free way to learn routes. You can learn them as scenery, then BOOM, one day you find you know them. At least, that’s how it works for me in PWE games.
As to missing the content / hidden things because of autorouting, of course, that is a good point, and the price you pay. However – FW doesn’t fall prey to ‘nothing cool is off the autoroute path’. Partly because there are SO many autoroute paths from different places, granted. But even so.
Elite mobs have set spawn locations, though they may spawn at random set spawn locations. Many of these locations are not on autopath routes. Some of the more desirable herbs have not only set spawn locations, but certain geological (or is that biological? plantological) preferences, and they aren’t all (or most for say, golden vine) on autoroute paths either.
So while the ‘ohnoes they won’t BUILD anything off the beaten path anymorez’ thought is a legitimate worry, it doesn’t happen in FW that I’ve seen. (Just hit level 40 – levelling slows down a lot after 30.)
TBH so far I’m really happy with FW, and really surprised that I’m happy with it. I think FW may become my rat pellet source, the way GW is my tinkersource. Right now, it’s really not harshly monetised at all. I’ve dropped US$20 on it in the cash shop because I’ve had WAY more fun on FW in the past 3 weeks than I did in my re-buy and re-sub of WoW for a month. And… the currency is just sitting there. I haven’t seen anything in the cash shop I absolutely want to pay cash FOR. Not that PWE cares – all they care is if you charge zen or not, I think. =)
Also, the stories in the quests are pretty good – if you bother to read them. And the accept/reject options have a kind of sass I haven’t seen outside of GW. I’m not really reading most of the quests right now, because there are just too many. OTOH, I do have all my char slots full already, so there’s plenty of time to read quests as I relevel yet more alts…
Oh and FWIW, even though I love boobies, I love how the girlvamps look, and I think the amazing boobiebaring cut of their clothes is just wonderful… I find girl dorfs plain disturbing.
It’s like… it’s like WoW gnomes were crossed with Bratz dolls and then plopped into a schoolgirl hentai film.
And with that closing statement on mai spam, which I hope leaves you gruntled, (the statement, not the spam), I waddle away for the day.