Monday, 31 October 2011

[GW2] A Very Scary Story

It’s a cold, dark October night. It’s nearly midnight and you’re browsing the web, no doubt swaddled in a warm blanket and sipping come hot chocolate or possibly some peppermint tea (how bohemian of you). You lazily flick between Facebook, Twitter and a number of different blogs. Suddenly, a new ArenaNet blog post pops into your feed reader. “That’s odd” you think “it’s a little late for them to be posting a new blog article”. Curious, you open the page and begin to read:

“Dear service user,

Over the past few months the leaders of the various divisions of both ArenaNet and NCSoft have met on numerous occasions to discuss the future of the project formerly known as “Guild Wars 2”. As a result of these meetings it is with deep regret that I must now inform you that the project formerly known as “Guild Wars 2” has been suspended indefinitely. This decision was formalised yesterday, but has been informally accepted by almost all members of staff since April 2010.

All previous demo gameplay was constructed on dummy servers in the weeks preceding each event. The 40 minute time limit was imposed to prevent the player from running out of the zone and into unconstructed space. All races, professions and all other miscellaneous videos were created through “stop animation” using cardboard, sticky-back-plastic and Uhu Glue. All landscape and character concept art was drawn by “Harry the sandwich guy” who brings us our lunches on Mondays, Thursdays and every other Friday, in exchange for a quick handie round the back of the building.

The “Alpha testing” phase has consisted of us ordering in pizza, browsing Facebook and playing Twister with the cleaning staff.

In an effort to scrape back the funds which our design team blew on the slots at Las Vegas, the charr plushes were made of several carcinogenic materials in a factory in Vietnam. One spark and they will burn up in 6.7 seconds and release a gas which causes blindness. Keep out of reach of children.

Colin Johansson was, in fact, a cleverly constructed android - programmed only to promote the game and kill on command. He has now been disassembled due to patent conflicts with Apple.

We feel very sorry about deceiving you all over the past 2 years; pretending to be working hard to bring you the most revolutionary MMO ever seen and instead spending the funding on fast food, fancy holidays and Farmville gold.

So, as a way of apology we will be offering a 25% discount on all Guild Wars cash-shop items.
Please buy the costumes; we’ve worked very hard on them.

Yours faithfully,

The Community Management Team”

Happy Halloween

A bit of a whinge about Multiplayer Stories

Most games today claim to want to make the player feel “heroic”. It’s an admirable intent; for a lot of people gaming is a form of escape, a way to be someone they are not – and most of us aren’t axe-wielding defenders of the planet, so it’s nice to be one for a short while. And it works... for single player games. For the most part, in single player games, the whole world must revolve around the player but I would question the applicability of this concept in a massively multiplayer context.

In a single player game the whole world can be controlled by the developer to expand and contract around the player. If they succeed in saving the town then the local crier can sing his praises and the populace can hold a parade in his honor: “Huzzah for Ballbag123, the saviour of Little Fartling!” you can be the hero because the world is built for you to be the hero.

In a multiplayer setting the world is built so that we can all be heroes, I get that. But when everyone is a hero, no one is. None of your actions can have a true permanent affect on the game world as doing so would take that content away from another player. So, we are all supposed to suspect disbelief when the “Great Dragon of Morcock” who you had valiantly slain all but 10 minutes ago pops up again and starts hurling fireballs: “Hey guys, you know that dying thing I did? That was a joke. LOL”.

Guild Wars 2’s (is that correct use of the apostrophe? My grammar-nazi senses are tingling but they may be off as it’s a Monday morning) personal story is seeking to solve a little bit of this problem by creating personalised story which acts almost as a single player campaign built into a multiplayer context. Essentially, it’s a dynamically evolving personal storyline which you can either play on your own, or drag your friends along as well.

I do think, however, that this is a bit of a plaster (that’s a “band aid” to you guys across the pond) over the actual problem. Shoehorning a single player story into a multiplayer game doesn’t solve the problem of how to tell a compelling story in a multiplayer context. Hopefully, the dynamic events system will go some way to patch this particular hole.

Friday, 28 October 2011

I draw the line at Panda

It’s a relatively arbitrary line which distinguishes what is “acceptable” and what is “unacceptable” in online games. If you reject the idea of playable intelligent pandas, why not reject the idea of playable intelligent wolves, cats, bears, goblins, plants or zombies? Why is the panda where the line is drawn?

Is it the markings? Racist! Could you live with playing as a beaver, but not a skunk? As a horse, but not a zebra? As a monkey, but not a lemur? Pfft... you make me sick.

Of course, I’m simplifying it for comic effect. In fact, WoW is a game I know little about and I’m only really using this whole panda- people debacle as a microcosm of the insane logic upon which MMOs are built.

Ps. This post is also built upon my long held assumption that the greyscale animals mentioned above are actually just olde-worlde versions of the other animals I stated. You know, before they invented colour television?

Monday, 24 October 2011

T-t-t-t-touch me!

Games come in all shapes, sizes, formats and age restrictions, but almost every single one has the same tool in common: hands. They hold controllers, flick switches, move mice, press buttons and tear hair out when it all goes to pot. You might argue that in fact the most used tool of a gamer is the brain; a fair point, I’ll concede. However, I’d argue that for the most part whilst you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, think with your brain etc – they all feed that information into actions carried out by the hands.
There are obvious exceptions; Kinect and to a certain extent Wii and Playstation Move remotes employ the whole body, and that strange new game where it measures the electrical activity of the brain and translates that into movement are all examples of such. But for the most part if you want to play a game, you’re going to need to use your hands.

I find it odd, then, that the one thing the hands do best – touch – is a sense which hasn’t really got past the “rumble pack” stage it was at about two decades ago. We have the capacity for such vast experiences through feeling something with our skin. We can tell shape, texture, viscosity, weight, movement and relative force. Thermoception (temperature), equilibrioception (balance) and even nociception (pain) are all wondrous functions which our body permits us to use and yet they are largely (with the exception of balance and the Wii fit system) unexplored in game design.

Of course, it’s an area which would have to be explored delicately. We don’t want developers shocking 12 year olds with 40000 volts, recreating the feeling of being shot in the gut by a high powered 50 cal sniper rifle etc. Furthermore, the ability to replicate the warmth, texture and movement of human skin would have many… *cough* sordid… connotations.

Monday, 17 October 2011

[GW2] Cabin Fever

Copied from Old Faithful:

Cabin fever is an idiomatic term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do, for an extended period (as in a simple country vacation cottage during a long rain or snow). Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational frustration with everyday objects, forgetfulness, laughter, excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow or dark.”

The winds have certainly died down. Although, we did receive the slightest breeze last week, there hasn’t more than a gust since asura week mid September. We are floating a little listlessly in open water; lips cracked and throats dry, a glazed look in our eye as if we would happily wring the cabin boys neck if it meant a stiff westerly wind. It’s an uncomfortable position for a blogger.

Quarter 2 next year is looking further and further away the closer it gets. That’s assuming that Q2 is a good estimate for the release, I mean, we can’t be sure and ANet are as zip-lipped as ever on the matter (does anyone else think a “when it’s ready” t-shirt, possibly emblazoned with the ANet logo and an angry looking MKerstein face, would sell rather well?).

I’m certainly feeling restless; flitting between FIFA12, Black Ops, Magicka, BF3 and Guild Wars – unable to settle on a game for any extended period. I worry that even Skyrim won’t hold me down, not because it won’t be a good game, but because my anticipation for the coming storm will have me constantly looking to the horizon.

Ps. Then again, if Skyrim doesn’t hold me there’s always Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Batman: Arkham City, Modern Warfare 3, and Saints Row 3…

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Pink Day in LA (and a little context)

I’m going to start this post with a bit of background info; it’s a little sombre but I promise I’ll perk up in a minute. Skip over it for Pink Day in LA info - this is just some context as to why it is important to me.

There is a history of cancer in my family, most recently with my little sister battling lymphoma from the ages of 14-16. I opened my 18th birthday presents at the foot of her hospital bed. It’s not a wholly remarkable story; if you threw an orange in a crowded bar you’d hit 5 different people who have had some friend or family member who suffered with cancer (you might also get glassed, depends on the type of bar). However, just because the story is common, doesn’t make it any less important. If anything, it is all the more important on account of its prevalence.

Since my sister’s illness we’ve all done what we can. My sister is a spokesperson for a charity that helps teenage cancer suffers; she is a confident public speaker and, at the age of only 18 was regularly speaking to large audiences, alongside my dad, about her experiences. I worked for the charity committee whilst at university and managed to raise a total of £30000 for various charities over the three years I was involved. Since leaving university I’ve been working in clinical research and have had the opportunity to assist on a number of cancer research network studies. Most relevant, I suppose, to the real topic of this post is my mother – she works in a breast care centre; screening women for breast cancer.
So, I guess you could say we have a vested interest in encouraging cancer research and breast cancer awareness.

With that in mind: PINK DAY IN LA!
This is a brilliant player run event, conducted in conjuction with Gamers Giving Back and Gaming World Entertainment Network (GW-EN) which seeks to spur doudy grey and green gamers into perfect, pretty in pink cancer research behemoths. Started in 2007 by some kind-hearted individuals, the whole event is an annual fund raising extravaganza which, this year, hopes to hit the holy grail of gamer's numbers by raising $13,370.00 in funds for The Canadian Cancer Society.

Head over to the GW-EN site to donate some dough for cancer research - donate $10 and you could win a host of tasty-wasty prizes!

We already have the NPC ready and willing to sell you some pink dye (I, in all my compulsive hoarding glory, still have some from last year) to make you look the part. I'll be lurking around LA all day Saturday, probably drinking heavily and popping party poppers like a madman.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

[GW2] Maintaining a Little Perspective

In a recent post over at KTR, Zubon reposted a comment he received from a Guild Wars 2 fan after he bemoaned the state of a number of MMOs. The commenter listed every feature of the upcoming game as if it will solve every single problem he had brought up. Zubon rightly pointed out the short sightedness of doing this before the product has even been released – and highlighted the (I'm sorry to say it) arrogance which seems to have built up around the game. I believe that the point of the post was somewhat lost in the proceeding 30 or so comments, but the point Zubon (and Syncaine) is trying to make is interesting to note.
I think it is important to remember that the game which solves every single problem is an “Ideal Type” – a platonic concept, an unobtainable ideal. Max Weber argued that certain concepts were so perfect that they couldn’t possibly exist in real life and so were only good as a tool for comparison.

For example, take the ideal family. We all know that every family has problems (however little or petty). So, the happily married parents with 2.4 children, a white picket fence and a dog ideal simply doesn’t exist – but you don’t know where your family (with its drug abuse, manic depression and nick-nack hoarding) fits into the picture unless you have that ideal as a concept against which to compare. I think this is a concept that some GW2 fans need to grasp.

The way the game is often spoken about on forum posts and blogs you would think that it had been out for years, had been play-tested to infinity, proven to be completely and utterly flawless and the employees of ArenaNet had been crowned as Supreme Rulers of the Multiverse and given ultimate control over all proceeding and preceding (assuming they also included the solution to time travel in the first expansion pack) peoples.

This is not the case. So, I wonder whether some people might benefit from a bit of perspective.

I’m not asking people not to be excited about the game (that would shooting myself in the foot somewhat), I’m just asking them to bear in mind that until the game hits the shelves, we can’t be sure what it will be like. And until we can be sure, please also bear in mind that if we are going to roll Guild Wars 2 out on a trolley every time any debate about MMOs occurs people are going to get very tired of it very quickly and those people who aren’t as excited about the release of the game as us are going to get rather irritated that we are stifling their conversations by almost touting GW2 as the be all and end all. So, until then, the concept of Guild Wars 2 as the perfect game exists as only an “ideal type”; unobtainable, non-existent and only useful as a tool for comparison. We've got a great community here, but I do think we have to be careful.

Ps. Then again, if the game exists in an unobservable vacuum (unobservable by us, at least) then we could argue that it is a sort of “Schrodinger’s MMO” and, as such, exists in a state of perfection and imperfection simultaneously.


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