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Let’s talk about MMOs… sigh…

I know what you’re thinking. I really do. You think that I’m going to talk about WoW, and SWTOR, and climb on top of my level 90 soapbox to deliver some self-righetous speech about how all MMOs are money-grubbing scumbuckets who utterly destroy your life as collateral damage. You think I’m going to villify Blizzard and BioWare and every one of the 50-some-odd million people who play (or have ever played) MMORPG games. You think I’m going to whine a little bit about PvP, and say that EVE isn’t as good as everyone thinks it is.
Well, my friends, you’re wrong.

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I’m baaaaack!

Hello, ladies and germs! Actually, I should say “guten Tag!” because I’m in GERMANY.

Whoa. Guys, I’m in Germany.

For the new folks here at the blogoblag, let me fill you in: I’m studying electronic music at the Hochschule Trossingen. Unbelievably rad! My studies begin in about 4 weeks, but right now I’m taking a 6-week long INTENSE German language learning course. Every day, 6 hours a day, just German. I haven’t been speaking a lot of English lately, so forgive me if I occasionally use a German word now and then. Actually, that won’t happen, as these blogs are rigorously edited for spelling and grammatical errors.

Not.

So, the transition from American culture to German culture has been a little bit difficult. I had my trusty DS with me, and I’ve been playing a lot of Poke’mon: White to pass the time. I’m staying with a host family that didn’t have internet (UNTIL TODAY thank Jobs), and so I was woefully without games that require the internet to play (like Diablo and Starcraft and often Minecraft and a lot of Steam games) and games that require the internet to DOWNLOAD (like the new Android Humble Bundle 3. I hope you bought it!). But now, German DSL is screaming along, giving me access to you, my dear readers, and to a wonderful cornucopia of other things like Facebook and Reddit. Actually, those things aren’t wonderful. They’re just excuses not to go outside and see this totally different, beautiful country that I’m in. So, perhaps I’ll slack off on keeping up with my American friends or the newest cat pictures.

But this blog! It must not be forgotten.

This particular post isn’t actually going to have anything of real substance (deep, well thought-out opinions about the true nature of video games will come later. Pinky swear). However, it’s going to let you know that all is not lost! There might be a brief hiccup when I move from my current location to Trossingen, because, well… new living location, lots of stuff to do, no internet, yadda yadda. Everyone who’s ever moved out of their parents’ basement knows what I’m talking about: that brief couple of days (or weeks) that you realize there is NO WAY for you to know what anyone else on the planet is doing. Interesting feeling.

So! The rest is bookkeeping. It is rather late here, and I almost said “the rest is beekeeping.” Perhaps a more interesting hobby, but I don’t think the analogy works here.

I’ve been nominated for the “One Lovely Blog” award by two separate people: cary, a longtime follower (really, one of the first) and a damn good game blogger in her own right, and Brendan, a blogger I wasn’t familiar with until, well, he sent me his nomination. Mea culpa.

As I tend to Google things, I have discovered that a ton of people have been “nominated,” and that there’s actually no one who really AWARDS these things. However, it’s totally nice and cool and it was the impetus for me to get my butt onto the computer and do some serious writing about video games! So, thank you both for the nominations… I found it very sweet.

About my day job (you know, this whole “music” thing I’ve flown halfway across the world and abandoned my family and friends to pursue). Before I left I spoke with a friend who has been in the film and video game industry for a long time, often as a certain type of artist, but as of late more as a representative for other creative types. I won’t be too specific, but she’s pretty awesome and knows EVERYONE. Anyway, we got to talking about how I would absolutely love more than anything to write music for games. It’s been a pipe dream that I’ve never considered to be a real possibility, but she was very supportive (which is a big thing, considering she KNOWS the industry and how difficult it is to enter). She mentioned something about lending her support in a more tangible way (which I also won’t mention here), but would perhaps be my “foot in the door,” so to speak. It’s not a free ride. I’d have to work hard. I’d have to start at the bottom, getting coffee for people like Hans Zimmer or Nobuo Uematsu (truthfully, getting coffee for the people who GET COFFEE for these composers). I jest, a little bit, but the important thing is, that I’d be working in that industry. Here’s the caveat: if I did take her up, I’d probably be working for a LARGER game company (think EA or Blizzard or Bethesda or something). They employ a lot of people, and as you may have read, I’m not always on their side. I think my goals and my ideals align more with an indie game group, but alas, it’s pretty much impossible to “apply” for a job in that world. It’s a great deal more about knowing the lead programmer (for example).

So what do you think? It’s a complicated decision, to be sure. Fortunately, I don’t have to make it for a year yet, and by then, everything could change. But I’m interested to know what everyone thinks.

That’s all for today! Sorry about not having any unrelated analogies or funny pictures. More will come. I just wanted everyone to know that I haven’t died or fallen off the face of the earth. I’m just on the OPPOSITE face of the earth. Completely different thing.

~Another Gamer

P.S. Here are some games. I think they’re awesome, but a couple of them will be relevant to my next post. SO PLAY THEM! Don’t slack off, you have gaming to do.

Dibbles: A puzzle game with a rather morbid (and awesome) twist.

Zombotron… 2! (even more fun than the original.)

Glean: I love these types of games. Perhaps not a “blatant” ripoff of MotherLode, but similar. This one, however, is complex, rather beautiful, and extraordinarily well-written. As far as flash games go, I recommend it very highly. Play it, be completely engrossed, leave a comment when you remember that there exists an internet outside of finding the next treasure chest.

P.P.S. I’m glad to be back. I don’t know if you could tell. I’ve missed writing about video games so much. I haven’t stopped being passionate about them, so not being able to write is a rough business. I’m glad to be back.

The Indie Game Conundrum

So indie games are cool. It’s true! They’re easily distributed, they often pursue pretty lofty artistic goals, they’re fun to play and cheap to buy. And there are literally THOUSANDS of them. Hooray for the indie gaming world!

Now that I’ve effectively summed up my opinion on that particular subject (and there is ample evidence in previous posts of mine that this is really, really true), let’s talk about what makes them so problematic. Because there are problems. I think that indie games are a godsend for game developers everywhere, but boy, they have their downsides.

The main reason for this post is because Notch (the near-god-status creator of MineCraft) did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit recently, and said some things that are very profound in terms of indie game development. Now, Mojang really only has ONE game. They may have some in the works, they may have put out a couple silly little projects before MineCraft, but MC is their big one. So, I guess we can’t call Notch “experienced” in the art of making indie games. But, actually we can! He’s had the chance to meet with, work with, fraternize with, play Halo and drink beer with every big name in the indie gaming industry, and some who are even bigger than indie games as a whole! He knows EVERYBODY, and thus knows a lot about the world of indie games and how they are made.

The big thing that totally struck me is the hype surrounding MineCraft and Mojang. EVERYONE who plays it loves it. There are a ton of people who are just completely apey over it, and I’m one of them. It’s a brilliant game, it keeps getting better, and every time I play it I look up and like 5 hours have gone by. (I’m not proud of that… okay, maybe a little, but in a very nerdy, self-loathing kind of way.) So what’s next for Mojang? What is going to capture our lives and our attention NEXT? It’s gotta be GREAT! It’s gotta be BETTER than MineCraft! WAY BETTER! CAPSLOCK! But the reality of the situation is that it won’t be. It can’t be.

And why not? Well, because it’s MineCraft, Notch says. He explained that MineCraft’s popularity was a fluke, a one in a million chance that he happened to get lucky on. It wasn’t intentional. And certainly, if we play MC ourselves, we can understand how this can be said to be true. The limits of the game are not imposed upon the player, they are imposed BY the player. Therefore, if players find it too difficult to embrace their creative desire, or an elite few hadn’t decided to make scale models of the Arc De Triomph, Neuschwanstein castle, and the FRICKIN’ U.S.S. ENTERPRISE, then perhaps others wouldn’t have picked it up and tried their hands at it. It really WAS a fluke. And the next game they put out won’t be. The reputation of Mojang is not enough to make a game that isn’t %100 awesome succeed.

Also, we must consider some other things. A different artistic goal must be in mind for their next game. To make a game quite a bit like MineCraft would make their fans jaded and let them down. In the indie game industry, novelty is a strongly attractive attribute for a game to have. The reason people like Haydn or Mozart were able to write so many symphonies and concertos is because they had a formulaic approach to composition. The same cannot be said for indie games. So, while Mojang may do sandbox games really well, they have no choice but to abandon that genre if they wish to make another game.

Finally, we must consider the people themselves. The gamedevs for indie games almost never number more than 12 or 15. There might be some indie studios with more than 20 people, but it’s very rare. When you have a close group of people like that, creativity is very hard to come by in large amounts. To produce awesome (and different) games consecutively is a very challenging thing for all game developers, but when you have such a small group of people, it becomes nearly impossible. Not every game can be utter genius. Not every game can be the most brilliant child a game company brings into the world. That’s not how it works.

To be an indie game company presents a very interesting set of challenges, and they’re ones that big game companies don’t have to face. They have the ability to create franchises out of their games that allow for a somewhat formulaic approach to how they do business, even if the artistic aspect is changed a bit (Final Fantasy or Tekken, anyone?). They have a lot more manpower, which, while it doesn’t create something completely mindblowingly brilliant very often, there is a base level of artistry in every aspect of the game (writing, 3d modeling, gameplay, programming, environments, music, etc.) that provides a quality product a lot more often than any indie company can hope for. And there’s the advertising. Big game companies throw around a lot more money, and can expect to make a lot more money from their investment. It’s the nature of the beast.

It’s a wonderful path in life to take if you love creating games. I would get up every morning and love my job if I could make indie games or write their music. But… everything that makes it so wonderful can also give these creative individuals a lot of problems and obstacles to their success. How does one continue being successful after one STARTS being successful? Notch says it’s not possible. Perhaps he’s right? Well, given the profits of MineCraft, he can AFFORD to be right! Frickin’ millionaire. For the rest of us, however, let’s hope he isn’t!

~Another Gamer

The end of Zynga?

Perhaps I should have titled this post “A gamedev you’ll loathe,” because of the simple fact that Zynga is as close to the spawn of Satan I have seen in this world (besides whoever thought up “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” of course. What a bastard). Zynga, if you don’t know them (and you should), is the company that makes all of the “ville” game, most notably Farmville. They also are in charge of Words with Friends, Zynga Poker (duh), and more recently, Draw Something. They pretty much have a corner on the Facebook game market, and they certainly use their powers for evil. Listen to this quote by Farmville creator Marc Pincus:

“I knew that I wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right, fucking, now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.”

Wow, what a jerkwad. Not only are you the maker of some pretty dubiously legitimate games, but you also encourage your users to download, I dunno, MALWARE? Jeez. Sauron looks at you and just says, “Dang, dude.”

But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who loathe Zynga with a flaming, fiery passion: they’re dying.

Yessiree! There has been news of Zynga’s stock tanking after the 2nd quarter profit reports came in. Not enough people are playing the existing games that Zynga made, and I guess they’re just not putting out enough new ones. What, Farmville, Cityville, Frontierville, Castleville, Yoville, Fishville, and Petville have saturated your market? AW, SHUCKS! That’s just too bad. Now, as for the 3 or 4 of you who are wondering if Zynga’s (hopefully) inevitable downfall is a good thing, let me explain some things to you about the company.

 

First of all, I think it’s clear from the above quote that they’re money-grubbing bastards. But there’s more to it than prompting you to install malware. The games themselves are all designed with a system in mind: you have a certain amount of “energy,” which you accumulate over time, that allows you to complete tasks. For instance, in Farmville, you plow fields, plant crops, harvest crops, and build structures (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong), with energy. As you expand your farm, energy becomes increasingly scarce, and you must either shorten the length of time between your play sessions (to get the maximum benefit from energy regeneration), or, in a more appealing route, you can pay REAL MONEY to buy energy. Yep. Paying real money for nothing. There are also tasks you must complete by getting an obscene number of friends to help you out on FB OR by paying real money. There are premium items that you can collect your coins and cash and pinch pennies over months to buy… or pay real money for them. Lots of these “pay to play” aspects have worked their way into all of Zynga’s games.

Now, I know that there is a fundamental disagreement about “pay to play” games. Many people say that they’re just fine, because you don’t HAVE to pay to play, and if one chooses to pay, they’re not paying for “NOTHING,” they’re paying for ENTERTAINMENT. While this is true, the amount of money you have to shell out to continue playing these games increases as you get through them. They are repetitive, and if we factor in how much work it took the developers to make said premium items versus how much you’re paying to unlock them, we get an hourly salary that even makes Blizzard employees drool. I believe strongly that if one is going to pay extra money to play something free, the additional gameplay and experiences you get to enjoy should be directly related to how much you pay for it. Consider the following:

Unlocking tomatoes, eggplant, and peas in Farmville is roughly equivalent to a month’s worth of World of Warcraft? Or perhaps it’s equivalent to an extremely kickass DLC for your favorite Xbox game?

Nope. Not a chance. These games are designed to suck you in (and your friends, through the incessant mass-delivered requests), and then, once you play often, you start running into everyday predicaments that are most conveniently solved by paying for the game. They don’t stop once you start paying, either. Eventually you run out of FarmCash (or whatever), and you must pay more to continue your lavish agrarian lifestyle. Utter balderdash, I say. If a game is free then make it free. If a game is worth paying for, ask people to pay for it. None of this “free to play, pay to win” nonsense.

So their business model isn’t working out anymore. Facebook is worried about it because they get 12 percent of their revenue from Zynga. Zynga is worried about it because they’re greedy sons-of-you-know-whats. But if their entire company goes up in flames? If I never see another Farmville (or any other ville) request in my entire life? If I download a mobile game I can play with my friends and I DON’T have to be bombarded with messages demanding my money? Well… there’s at least one person who WON’T be worried about the end of Zynga.

Me.

~Another Gamer

P.S. I’m sorry that I’m not as funny when I’m pissed off, but I’ve hated Zynga for a long time and vengeance is sweet.

 

Diablo 3: Need I say more?

Diablo 2 was a pretty frickin’ awesome game. I’m just gonna put that one out there before I go any further. Diablo 2 climbed the Mount  Olympus of PC gaming, beat the crap out of Zeus, and pronounced Blizzard ruler of all awesomeness forever and ever, amen. And that certainly hasn’t changed. Diablo 2 rocked the world with its algorithmically generated dungeons, amazing abilities, cool music, rich storyline and voice acting, fluid combat system, gratuitous violence, and visually stunning environments (for that day and age). I mean, jeez, how many more qualities of gaming are there? Oh noes, it doesn’t have Wii-motion technology. Suck it up, Nintendo-philes! D2 was the pinnacle of gaming for its time, and I bought it at a very developmental time in my life (around 5th grade or so). So, this game holds a very special place in my heart. My time hearing the words “Stay awhile and listen!” over and over and over were well spent.

But okay, guys: I got a beta invite to Diablo 3. When I found out they were making a 3rd Diablo game, I leapt for joy. Pretty much. Maybe not actual leaping, but there was some definite freaking out. I began following the lore religiously, watching as each new development came out, got a desktop background, scrolled through pages of fanart, and adopted a chihuahua and named him “Baal, Lord of Destruction.” That’s how excited I was. Now, of course, school started and I was dragged kicking and screaming back to reality, so I completely stopped following any of the hype, because Blizzard hadn’t put out a release date. And then Blizzard put out a release date, and I got a beta invite. And now, without knowing anything knowing anything about the actual gameplay, I delved into the awesomeness that is Diablo 3.

When I saw this for the first time, I cried for joy.

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The Blizzard Epidemic

You’re a serious gamer, right? I mean, your 4 food groups are chips’n’dip, hot wings,  cold pizza and Mountain Dew. You think that by going to bed early, you mean 3 or 3:30am, and you cancel that date you (finally) picked up from the online matchmaking service because it conflicted with your XBOX live time. Wait, no? You’re married to a wonderful woman (or man, even), work full time, have 3 kids who you’re trying to get through the public school system? You have an SUV, a mortgage, and you are looking forward to a relatively comfortable retirement? And you pay fifteen bucks a month to play World of Warcraft. How is this POSSIBLE?!?!?!? World of Warcraft is the bane of existence! It dominates your life! You lose real life friends and replace them with NPC’s in-game! You tell your guildmates that you’re going to go back “into real life” for a bit, like this is Inception and your fantasy world has become reality! It’s a terrifying, life-sucking, social-adjustment-destroying monster. Right? Read the rest of this entry