Monday 27 June 2011

May you game in interesting times.

Life in Middle Earth is fairly peaceful at the moment, a harbour of refuge from squallish MMO seas. What with EVE players being shocked with the news that their game of legitimised skulduggery and chicanery is run by a group of people who appear to hold similar values with respect to their player populace, Star Wars Galaxies being dropped into the great gaming Sarlacc pit, and City of Heroes going free to play in a spandex-laden showdown with Champions Online, it seems as though the best recourse is lying ahull and then seeing on what course our genre has been blown once this latest tempest ebbs.

Elsewhere, the Guild Wars 2 hype machine continues to hiss and fump and pshhhhk as it pumps out a steady stream of steam-powered press releases with respect to the messianic second coming of MMOs. In all honesty though, I find ArenaNet’s promotion of their game to be less nauseating than many, despite my reservations about some of their developer diary insights, they have been making various noises which indicate that they do understand some of the issues that gamers have with the current crop of MMOs.

I expect it also helps that these days I exist in a scorched wasteland of MMO promotion, a Cyberdyne Systems Series 800 crunching my way across the skeletal hopes and dreams of MMOs past, compressed beneath the weight of reality and broken promises. For me it seems to be the best way to approach the marketing for these MMOs: to analyse them impartially through retina-projected artificial crosshairs and digital readouts, while the armour of the hyperalloy combat chassis resists penetration by the worst of marketing’s self-propelled hypersonic hyperbole. As such I find myself generally pleased with the direction ArenaNet professes to be taking their game, without really believing any of it until Judgement Day when the game is finally released.

My feelings for Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, however, continue to flip-flop between avidity and ambivalence; their storytelling system, character classes, and cinematics, continue to impress and give a feeling that the Force is strong with this one, whereas the ‘stand next to one another and continuously shoot each other in the face with blasters’ combat along with the ‘summon a vehicle out of thin air with sparkly magical power’ ability, look very much like dropping the X-Wing of Immersive Escape back into the dank swamp of Depressing Design Decisions.

Considering that these are the Big Two releases for MMOs –where the whole genre potentially tilts on their success– neither company is massively hyping their game in the old style, instead generally sticking to releasing informative details of the respective games, at least, once they’d let off a head of steam from their hype machines: ArenaNet with their Manifesto, and Bioware with their Fourth Pillar. There are games still following the old style of hype, The Secret World having told us so much about the game without actually having told us anything, for example, and where TERA continues to tout its action orientated game-play and diplomacy system, while generally leaving players more informed about the various underwear styles and colour choices available in the beta build.

In the meantime I’m finding myself slowing down, reverting to the game that always seems to give me joy, and thus settling back in with my mature mistress. It’s the simple quiet life, living in the countryside away from the manic enthusiasm, hustle and bustle of the big city. The glow in my red eyes has dimmed to a mere flicker, as they stare with cold cynical evaluation at the future of the genre, but deep inside I’m still hoping for an MMO to come along that will capture my imagination in a way that past MMOs have done, such that it penetrates my cyborg defences and brings a spark of life into an otherwise pleasant but somewhat robotic existence in the MMO space.

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