No PvP Safeguards in Age of Conan?

During Funcom's GDC presentation, Game Director Gaute Godager responded to a reporter's question about player-versus-player combat, and the problem of ganking with a potentially worrisome solution: Don't join a PvP server.

Depending upon your point of view, this is either the most logical thing in the world or a complete cop out. Godager's statements reflect what seems to be a complete free-for-all option on these servers. At least several months ago, it seemed that there would be safeguards in place to prevent players of very high levels from attacking or engaging players of much lower levels. The rules appear to have changed, and PvP, while in some cases restricted to within designated areas, seems to be open to a large problem with griefing.

Most MMO players know that griefing can be extremely frustrating to deal with, especially in the lower levels. These cyber bullies can even turn players off from renewing their subscriptions. So why make this decision? It seems the vocal members of the PvP audience, in many instances on the official community forums, figured that if the game were aiming for realistic, violent, and mature combat, then it might as well be "realistic" in this aspect as well. Thus, as the game currently stands, a bored level 80 may attack and kill a level 25 without consequence.

I'm not a big PvPer. I engage with friends or guildmates, or occasionally one on one when I'm in the mood. The promised rules blocking high level characters from ganging up on low levels represented the one thing making the possibility of playing on a PvP server remotely tolerable. I don't want other people to dictate how I spend my game time or be allowed to ruin my fun via griefing. If my character has a fair shot of beating someone, then that is tolerable on a PvP server. But to allow free-for-all attacks is just inviting trouble. Bad decision, Funcom.

Taking the Wii Seriously

I was reading some gaming news today and saw the announcement for Wonderworld Amusement Park for the Wii. Now, I think the Wii has much to offer, but developers are still not taking it very seriously. The system is overloaded with minigame compilations. The pack-in Wii Sports is a minigame compilation itself.

Now, recently, many have been blaming low software sales for all but first-party titles. Economically speaking, that's a bad sign, but when you take into account just how many developers underestimated the Wii's potential success, these numbers might not even be relevant in a year. What's going to determine that? Well, better software should be a start. However, in order to get to that point, studios have to assign more development time, team members, and budget. And they have to stop thinking in such simplistic terms for the console.

It was a port, but Resident Evil 4 showed just how a serious, "hardcore" title could work on this system. With refreshed controls, it took advantage of the system's capabilities in a well-integrated, not tacked-on, manner. There are marquee titles on the way like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which I'm looking forward to, but then there are the junky, gimmicky, low-budget titles. Every console has its duds, but current the failure of developers to take the Wii seriously is something to watch. I certainly hope we see at least a somewhat different picture by this time next year, with fewer throwaway titles. I'm aware that the Wii is marketed as a very social system with a low barrier to entry. It is. But that doesn't mean that there can't be a slew of even more amazing titles in development.

The Orange Box

This is awesome.

If you haven't yet tried Team Fortress 2,  don't miss it if you like multiplayer shooters or competitive games in general. It's some of the most fun I've ever had with a shooter. Don't be put off by the cartoonish style, there's quality gameplay and lots of humor. Very much worth playing.

Speaking of humor, The Orange Box is loaded with it, even though I've only played through a portion of it over at my boyfriend's house. I've previously played Half-life 2 , but this time around have gotten to play TF2 and Peggle Extreme, which is a pretty darn funny edition. Portal, which I haven't played yet, but which I have heard a whole lot about and seen videos from, is full of weird, sometimes quite morbid, humor.

Halloween is coming up, but I don't have any plans this year. Have a ton of writing and work to do, but I'm considering trying NaNoWriMo again, and giving it a serious push this time. Haven't decided just yet.

“Women + PC Gaming: BFF”

I was reading the latest issue of Games for Windows magazine today (October, the one with F.E.A.R. sequels on the cover) and came across this "advertorial" near the back tech section. Ugh, I know Microsoft features these as part of its sponsor partnership with Ziff-Davis, but this one was particularly close to home.

It begins – "Women who play Games for Windows: It's not a myth, and  it's not a publicity stunt."

Wow, Microsoft. Thanks for telling me that I play games. I had trouble believing it before, but now I am assured that this activity of mine is not a publicity stunt.

Wait, it gets better.

"That's right–there are real, everyday ladies playing computer games (even hardcore favorites such as Age of Empires III [Microsoft, Rated T] and Shadowrun [Microsoft, Rated M] the entire world over this very minute!"

Once again, thank you Microsoft, and writer Christa Phillips for letting me know that the mysterious creature known as the female that plays games is not a rare local species and is found throughout the world. Even sometimes playing hardcore titles. OMG!

It's not the content that I'm taking issue with so much as the presentation. The cutesy title and writing style makes me read the entire piece in this syrupy hyper voice in my head. It's also written in this patronizing way that I suppose is meant to speak to the mostly male readership of gaming magazines, but comes off as treating the female gamer as something of an exotic mystery, even while its aim is to debunk that sort of thing.

There are actually some on-target comments from some women quoted in the article, but the overall style of the piece just rubbed me the wrong way.

Part of the ending paragraph, "Women who love to game still look forward to the day when guys value our sniper skills as much as our crafting abilities. Until then we'll find safety and acceptance in female gaming groups like GamerchiX and PMS Clan…," also hit upon one aspect that I've thought about often. That is whether or not all-female clans and groups make further integration into the greater gaming community easier or more difficult.

But that's a topic for another day.

Remember When Developers Just Made Games?

Real life and some other business has kept me away from blogging here for a while. But I'm back now. and look, another post about gaming. Well, it is E3 week, and I promise I don't always rant. I will be talking pleasantly about gaming soon enough.

I read this a short time ago:

Ubisoft Unveils Imagine(TM) Video Game Series for Girls
Thursday July 12, 3:06 pm ET
First Video Games in Series Available in October

SANTA MONICA, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Ubisoft, one of the world's largest video game publishers, announced its all-new Imagine(TM) series of video games targeted at girls ages 6 to 14 years old. The Imagine line allows girls to explore their favorite interests and hobbies – as indicated in extensive lifestyle research on this audience – in an interactive and entertaining way. Ubisoft's Imagine series is part of the company's strategic expansion into the casual video game market.

Source: Ubisoft   

The first games in the Imagine line will launch in October 2007 for the Nintendo DS(TM) system: Imagine(TM) Fashion Designer, Imagine(TM) Animal Doctor, Imagine Babyz® and Imagine(TM) Master Chef. Imagine(TM) Figure Skater will follow in early 2008.

"Ubisoft is excited to finally offer young girls a line of games that give them the chance to explore their hobbies and interests in interactive and creative experiences," said Helene Juguet, senior director of marketing at Ubisoft. "Our consumer research revealed that the young girls' market has been relatively overlooked. We are happy to introduce a variety of titles relevant to what girls in this age group have indicated they are most interested in."

Imagine(TM) Fashion Designer invites players to become hip Manhattan designers handling all aspects of the fashion business, from creating their own line of clothing to directing photo shoots. Online gameplay allows players to share their designs and ideas with friends and fellow aspiring young fashionistas.

Imagine(TM) Animal Doctor puts young players in the role of a veterinarian, not only by treating and curing all types of animals, but also by creating new facilities to expand the veterinary hospital.

Imagine(TM) Babyz® is the first simulation game focused on caring for babies. Players take on the challenges of raising a baby throughout all stages of development and will also be able to take photos and exchange tips and clothing through a unique online component.

Imagine(TM) Master Chef allows players to create recipes from all over the world using the stylus to prepare, stir and cook ingredients. Players can customize their kitchens with utensils and appliances. Fun mini-games include cooking quizzes and kitchen challenges.

In Imagine(TM) Figure Skater, players live the life of a champion who needs to balance her life between training, school and friends. Girls take on the role of a professional figure skater and use the stylus to perform jumps, spins and a variety of skating combinations.

source link:

I remember back when developers just made games and we all played them. I'm sure some little girls would have a blast with these, but do we actually need such specialized titles and marketing? Why not just market games to everyone? I swear, the games marketed to little girls are some of the cheesiest, cheapest sounding titles out there. I think if these were the types of games that I played when I was a
little girl, I wouldn't be a gamer today. They're mostly sims. Yes, these are backed up by market research, but there's a problem: many gaming focus groups exclude females completely unless the company behind them specifically decides to make a game with females in mind. Who's to say that those other games wouldn't appeal to female players, even little girls? Don't they deserve better?

Ads in Games and Realism: Brief Thoughts

"I would never want to see fake ads… It would be preferential to the
gamer's experience to use real ads that are dynamically changing.
" – Brash Entertainment's Nicholas Longano

I'd have to disagree. Fake ads are another place where game developers can be creative. Take Rockstar and the GTA series. These are often very amusing, and topical. It's also good to not feel like real-life advertising is consistently bombarding every aspect of my existence, including gaming. The fake ads don't detract from realism, even in the much talked about sports genre. Even if they did, gaming isn't necessarily about what's realistic, is it? When's the last time you crawled down a pipe into another dimension?

On the topic of gaming and realism, here's a good recent piece dealing with Age of Conan.

On Gaming Press and Gamers’ Attention Spans: Denis Dyack

"Legacy of Kain had about sixty hours of play, but games have changed. People don't want that any more."

So says Denis Dyack, president of Silicon Knights, in a recent interview. Dyack spoke on several topics, including the company's long-delayed Too Human, which received negative press after being previewed at E3 2006. The game, originally announced in 1999, has hopped platforms and publishers before landing at Microsoft. He also speaks of what he considers to be gamers' shortened attention spans, which is a rather bold statement to make.

Too Human is one of those games that has been in development hell for a while. One of those vaporware titles that one wonders if it will ever see the light of day. Whenever it is released, we'll know whether the reception is warm or not. However, Dyack says the company likely won't be releasing any more on the game until it's done or at least close to done. With those statements, he criticizes gaming press as a whole:

"We're probably at a much further advanced stage than a majority of
games that developers are showing to the press right now but we're just
not talking about it. And the reason for that is after E3 2006 we
really started to rethink previews and the way games are shown to the
We're getting to the point where we don't ever want to show a game
again until it's finished. It's almost pointless. The media has a hard
time with looking at games before they're done. If you take the movie
industry as an example, how often do you see a movie before it's
completed? You don't."

Now, some of his criticisms are valid, in that some reviewers and press outlets might be too judgmental in previews, either positively or negatively, before a title's release. However, even movie studios show preview clips, still photos, or inside looks while the film is still in production. Teasers are quite common. Starting the buzz early is a marketing tactic used even with the most successful franchises. Take something like Harry Potter, or the recently released Spider-man 3. Promotional releases for those were up and in front of potential consumers' eyes before the films finished production. One of the most powerful marketing tools is word of mouth advertising. It's vital and it's free. Studios, whether they're producing films or games, need to try and take advantage of that. They need the "Did you see that?" talk the next day, even if it's weeks, or even months ahead of release. To me, it sounds like the drubbing his game received in 2006 led to an "I'm taking my toys and going home" type of attitude.

Dyack's other major point of interest is his assertion that gamers have somehow moved beyond long titles:

"[G]ames have
changed. People don't want that [long titles] any more[sic]. I don't care how good the
game is[,] I don't want to play something that's one hundred hours long.
As much as I love World of Warcraft [,] I pulled myself out of it.
If we're going to craft an epic story[,] we decided we had to divide it into manageable chunks for the consumer."

Making any game is a risk. Most titles don't go on to become blockbusters. However, it's a valid suggestion that it's not gamers that want shorter games, but studios are producing fewer epics due to budgetary concerns. The gaming industry is in a state where it's very successful in terms of revenue, but there's a constant balance struggle between  creative ingenuity and appeasing the bottom line. Making any game is a risk, but producing a longer game is a bigger risk, since it generally involves more production time and money. Many titles these days are shorter as a result. Final Fantasy is still around, but more and more games are clocking in at under 10-15 hours these days, while still getting more expensive to produce and to buy on the consumer end.

Personally, I love a good epic. If the gameplay is quality and the story is well-planned and written, there's almost nothing better. I also feel like I'm getting more bang for my buck, so to speak, since I'm paying less per hour. of enjoyment. When I get an 8-hour game that ends with the door open for a sequel (I'm looking at you, Halo 2), it sometimes feels like a ripoff. Granted, I enjoyed Halo 2 very much and actually didn't mind the cliffhanger ending so much, but there's no denying it was a short game, albeit a pretty satisfying one.

Dyack explains how Too Human will now be a trilogy. Is this a cost-cutting move? Instead of releasing one 100-hour game, you release three 3-hour ones, so you potentially make triple the profit, although marketing costs might be tripled as well; less if you get that coveted word of mouth and maintain buzz. Each game is supposed to feel self-contained, lending credence to the idea that this was a budget decision, at least in part. "That was the flaw in The Lord of the Rings movies," he claims, which is misguided, since those films were intentionally meant to feel like parts of a whole, and that "flaw" captured people's attention. So much so that all three parts cleaned up at the box office despite being a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and and over three hours long apiece. The comparison is a false one and supports the reverse of what he's claiming: that people will accept lengthy, involving entertainment provided it's made well and pay for it. That there's no need to compartmentalize and chop our entertainment into "manageable chunks" in order to spoonfeed it to us, especially as a cover for trying to pad the bottom line.

Game developers, please continue making epics. Diversity can only be good for gamers and for the industry as a whole. People with a narrow view like Denis Dyack, unfortunately, cannot see that.

“Get Your Significant Other into Gaming”

Note: This is a repost from another of
my blogs, which is sort of on hiatus and may undergo a design change
and relaunch shortly. I've decided to talk about video games on this
blog too, but that one is completely game focused.

Since this is now my main blog, I thought it would make sense to put it here as well.

January 1, 2007

I did a Google search for an unrelated issue I'm having with my browser, and came upon this article
from 2005. I'm sure someone, somewhere, has already discussed it, but
it's new to me. I generally don't go to for gaming
articles, so I had to stumble upon it.

The article is written in
a gender neutral voice, but it seems that this is merely for
politically correct purposes, as the suggestions and style seem to
indicate that this is geared toward men looking to get their non-gamer
girlfriends or dates into games.

Part of the advice reads: "Do start slow.
Rather than opting for a date starring aliens or zombies, try picking a
title grounded in the real world." Most gamers are happy to show off
their games. They just jump right in and speak enthusiastically. If
it's a passion of ours, we're not necessarily going to tread slowly and
try not to startle our friends or romantic interests. We're going to
say, "Hey, I just got this great game, take a look!" and then proceed
to demonstrate. I'm not advocating intimidation, but you don't have to
treat your non gamer friends and lovers as if they're complete
neophytes that can't handle a little bit of imagination or something
not based in reality. That's like saying reading picture books full of
talking animals and trips to the moon to little children isn't a good
idea. It's all about the concepts and the presentation, not the
delivery method.

If I see something that looks fun to play, I'll
jump right in. Now, while I do enjoy casual games like one of the
titles Mr. Steinberg mentions, Bookworm, that doesn't mean that it's
exciting. Part of the reason why I've been gaming for so long is
because it remains fun and exciting. Now, not all games have to deliver
an intense adrenaline rush ( and plenty have, especially after a truly
arduous boss fight), but if you show me something that looks insanely
fun, I'll want to try it that much more.

Obviously, if we're
referring to a novice gamer, or someone who doesn't game at all, then
it's worth it to find out his or her tastes first. Does this person
enjoy sci-fi novels or movies? Then break out Halo. Is an adventurous
drama or mystery more his or her cup of tea? Then maybe go for
something like Broken Sword or Myst. Political intrigue? Try Beyond
Good & Evil. It's just too hard to try introducing someone to
gaming without looking into the person's interests at all. There are so
many good games within all genres that it's easy enough to recommend
something once you have a sense of what the person might enjoy more.

touched upon the PC qualities of this article earlier, but this is
where it irked me a little. If it was written as another "introduce
your wife/girlfriend/sister/mom to gaming" piece, and it is, then
Microsoft should have just let it be. It's obviously written with that
point of view and directed at a male audience. Look at the advice and
game suggestions:

  • "Don't show frustration or gloat over victories.
    As with any activity, beginners may lack confidence. Take the time to
    help them learn how to play and offer positive feedback. It also
    wouldn't hurt if you let your loved one win once in a while. And for
    heaven's sake, be gentle: poking fun at gaming newcomers is a great way
    to turn them off the hobby permanently."

In other
words, treat her like an incapable child who needs to be duped lest it
hurt her poor, fragile juvenile ego. I attempted to cheat at board
games and ask my mother if she'd let me win when I was around two. She
told me no, and that I had to play fairly and honestly or we couldn't
play at all. It was an important lesson. I knew if I won, that I'd
actually won. That does a hell of a lot more for someone's confidence
than letting them win.

  • Do choose colorful, non-threatening activities. Lean toward the type of title that evokes fond memories of childhood.

look! More advice to treat this new [female] gamer like a child.
Colorful and non-threatening? Give me a break. And while you're at it,
a BFG and a chain gun.

The last section is almost equally air headed, especially the blurb about the Frag Dolls:

  • Lonely
    hearts should check out the Frag Dolls, an all-female team of
    professional gamers. Members Brookelyn, Eekers, Jinx, Katscratch,
    Rhoulette, Seppuku, and Valkyrie update their pages frequently and
    offer news on personal appearances. Meet up with one at a LAN party,
    and you just may find love.

So this guy is
encouraging other guys to read their site, their profiles, and hit on
the women there? As if the FragDolls don't get enough flak and
adulation from lonely gamer guys for being attractive women.

familiar with gaming press and blogs, and articles like this don't
surprise me at all. I'm also quite familiar with both gamers and
non-gamers, male and female. You don't have to baby new gamers, just
get them excited and curious to learn and enjoy themselves. Learn who
they are and what interests them. Treat them like intelligent, fun
loving people, and you'll both enjoy gaming a lot more.

Edit, October 2007: The article linked above is no longer accessible at the original location. It is available here.

“Strangers in a Strange Land”

"A woman paying $130 for a pair of shoes is one thing, but one paying $130 for the Legendary Edition of Halo 3 is something else altogether."

This is one of the best lines in Susan Arendt's recent piece in The Escapist. It's a perfect summary of how many non-gamer women see those of us who love to spend chunks of our leisure time blasting away zombies, solving puzzles, saving the day, and grinding out XP. Most of the women I know don't play video games, and such things aren't even on their radar. It can be difficult when I'm excited for a new MMO or a console release and can't really discuss it with them.

I've been gaming for most of my life. Our family got out first console when I was about two or three years old. I cut my gaming teeth on the classics on Atari and NES and haven't looked back since. I've had female friends that played games, but I was often the only one that was pretty hardcore about it. These days, I'm part of online communities aimed at women that play games, but in real life, outside of our niche, sometimes we get what Arendt deftly describes as "[being] constantly asked to explain and justify our hobby, a requirement
rarely placed on those who choose trips to the movies or pickup games
of basketball as their pastimes of choice".

Another point she touches on is the reaction of family to a woman that plays games. We're more apt to receive comments about "growing out" of games, where the males aren't expected nearly as often to somehow give up this particular hobby. When it comes to my family, they don't quite understand either, though they haven't been as harsh as to ask when I'd grow out of it. However, when all of my younger cousins received Nintendo DS systems one Christmas, and I got slippers and pajamas, as cute as they were, I was disappointed. Last year, my family talked about trying to buy Wii systems for my younger cousins. 'What about me?' I thought. But they don't consider buying me games or systems because I'm an adult.

Arendt's piece, which is highly recommended, goes into many other situations applicable to us female gamers,  and includes testimonials from several women. When I read it, I kept thinking "yes, that's exactly how it is". No one would bat an eye at a woman spending $130 on shoes, and yet that's something I probably wouldn't do. New Silent Hill release on the way? Sure.