Not being a fan of the “loot shooter” sub-genre, when EA launched Anthem it was just “the other game” they released in February along with Apex Legends. Of course I wasn’t going to play Apex Legends either, but at least it was an interesting diversion in the battle royale genre.
Also, if you Google “Anthem logo” you get a lot of different results.
Used without permission
So I would have ignored Anthem the way I have pretty much ignored Destiny, Borderlands, and The Division, save for the fact that the internet seemed quite obsessed with Anthem. But it was hard to tell if the game was just bug ridden, something that can theoretically be fixed over time, or a genuinely bad design. Reviews seemed to not like the design, but couldn’t stop fretting over bugs. The PC Gamer review probably focused on design more than most, but a lot of the frustration was still about bugs.
Despite a reputation than leans on humor and quick pacing, I think Yahtzee Crowshaw might have the most design-centric review of Anthem, focused pretty much on game play design without a mention of the software problems. Also, he makes fun of EA, something most of us can get on board with.
The upshot was Anthem is BioWare trying to make something that really isn’t in their wheelhouse. And I would have left it there had there not been the giant How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong story over at Kotaku.
Holy moly. I mean, I’ve lived some of that. Ill defined goals, misidentified competition, and corporate dictates about what platform or tools are allowed regardless of their fitness for the current development purpose are all daily occurrences in any larger organization. I spent most of last summer dealing with the fact that our 2018 continuous integration dictate was not compatible with our 2015 platform dictate, both of which came from some senior exec who either used the same thing at their last company or saw a cool demo and decided to bet the company on it.
But the Anthem story… well, it just shows that when you have an entertainment property there are a lot more ways things can get completely screwed up.
And then there was the EA/BioWare non-response to the article, posted minutes after it was posted, meaning it was a pre-formulated deflection that feels a bit like it is refuting some other article about the game.
All of which I could have ignored, but it seems like a moment in gaming that might be a tipping point for change. Not good change, of course. More like EA laying off more BioWare staff or retiring their brand or something. We shall see.
The title of this post is a hierarchy, and should thus probably be represented as:
That is my order of preference for getting information about gaming in general and MMOs in particular.
It is easy for me to tell you why reading is in first place, and it isn’t merely because it is something I have become pretty used to over the last 45 years or so.
When you are reading, you are in control.
Yes, the author put it all together and laid it out for you, but you get to pick and choose what you’ll read and when you’ll read it. You can read something in total, you can skim, you can jump to the end, you can walk away and come back to pick up where you left off. Reading seems to me to be the optimal way for me to pick up the information I want about gaming.
And this is reflected in my RSS feed, where I follow more than 200 sources, including blogs, news sites, and forums. Somebody will say that is a lot. It really isn’t. If I skim headlines and mark stories to read later and pick sites with care to avoid too much duplication, my RSS feed is a 10-15 minute daily assignment in the morning before work, with some follow up during the day. And FlipBoard on the iPad makes it so I can also pick up Twitter and Facebook updates (Flipboard actually makes Facebook a manageable and useful source of information! Imagine that!) and do this all while I am still in bed.
There are, of course, issues with with written word. It can be difficult to get across the correct tone when writing. Then there are people who will read a post and call you a hater because you said something negative about the game they love, disregarding anything positive you might have said. And of course, anything that smacks of satire or sarcasm is going to get misunderstood by somebody. But I am sure A Modest Proposal spurred some people to protest vehemently against the idea of eating children in its day.
And, of course, when I am reading… as opposed to skimming headlines… I cannot really do anything else. It requires focus. But I can pick my iPad and move somewhere quiet if focus becomes an issue.
In some ways, listening to somebody else talk about MMOs seems like an ideal middle ground. I can listen to a podcast while I drive or play certain games on my computer, so it gets points for multi-tasking.
I have to pause whatever I am listening to in order to read anything detailed. A paragraph of quest text seems to require the same mental resources as listening to somebody speak, so if I do not pause I will often find that anything said while I was reading was lost. But that only applies to longer blocks of text and any attempt to play a text based game like a MUD. Short messages, quest updates, and random idiots on chat do not take over the language processing portions of my brain long enough to interfere with what I am listening to.
And audio solves much of the tone problem people have with the written word. You can hear is somebody is calm or angry or laughing hysterically as they present something. I also find interviews can be much more effective with audio. Again, the dry written word is hard pressed to express emotion effectively. I recall back to the Jeff Green interview with Jeff Butler about Vanguard on the 11/10/2006 GFW podcast. It was outstanding. A pity you cannot download it any more.
The problems with audio as a format however negate much of the multi-tasking benefit.
First, you are pretty much at the mercy of the show creator when it comes to the flow of content. Unless they spent the time to setup chapters… and almost nobody does that… skipping ahead really is not an option. Sorry, but I am not always interested in your musical interludes or rambling general chit-chat, or any “what are we playing” segment that goes on for more than a minute per person speaking.
Second, as a method of transmitting detailed information, audio just sucks. There is an old saying about people being able to keep five things in their brain, plus or minus three. I am definitely on the minus side of things these days. So if you read out something like the comparison of the Riders of Rohan pre-order options I put in my post yesterday, I would have completely forgotten the basic option by the time you got to the legendary description. Presented as the printed word, I can flip back and forth and refresh my memory. Such an option is not available with audio, unless I read along, in which case I would rather just read.
Finally, there are just a bunch of little annoyances that have turned me off of podcasts over the last couple of years. I am surprisingly unforgiving of poor sound quality. There is the voice of the host, which if I do not like, I am not coming back. (And I say that while freely admit I cannot stand the sound of my own voice either, so welcome to the club.) It is also tough to search podcasts for content and when the owner disables the feed, the podcast is gone forever unless you have saved it locally. Adios all of Massively Online Gamer.
And then there seems to be this need to hit time goals, like it really isn’t a podcast if it doesn’t run at least an hour. Please, please, please, get over that. You are not trying to fill a network time slot.
I will hold up, as an example of my ideal podcast, Planet Money. This is an NPR production that is done just as a podcast. So unlike, say, This American Life in podcast form, which does have to run in a one hour radio time slot, Planet Money only runs as long as it needs to. It opens with a standard segment, does just one story, and runs anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes, rarely exceeding 20.
This is great. I am always ready for the next episode. There is no fat and no padding things out to a specific time. This is a good example of “less is more.” Somebody emulate this with an MMO podcast.
Watching, which usually comes in the form of a video on YouTube, ranks in third place with me for a few reasons. As with audio, you are at the mercy of the presenter when it comes to pace and order of content, though at least with visual cues it is a bit easier to skip ahead.
Of course being a combination of visual and audio, you cannot really pay attention to the presentation and do anything else. You must stop, look, and listen. So it has that going against it along with the fact that I am stuck hooked to the internet while I watch. Books and podcasts can travel, video stays tethered in some way.
But all of that might be acceptable if the average gaming video cast wasn’t a complete mis-use of the medium.
Here is the deal. We are well on our way into the 21st century here. If you have modeled your show on the nightly news from the 1970s, you are doing it wrong. Having a news anchor at a desk was new and cool to my grandparents. If your value ad is a desk, a suit, and a few captions, please consider dialing it back to a podcast. And if you have a hipster in a t-shirt standing instead of a suit and a desk, congratulations, you’ve made it to the 1980s by emulating MTV news.
Yes, I know you want to get on screen and be a star, but unless you are angling to actually move your show to… I don’t know… the Syfy network maybe… let it go as a format.
Not that there isn’t a time and a place for the desk and microphone setup. If you are on the GDC show floor and are going to do an interview with Raph Koster sitting at a desk, great. I’ll get that it isn’t a studio production and frankly the nature of the event will make for some interesting give and take. There is something to the Larry King format I suppose.
When I started on this section, my conclusion was going to be that I do not watch any gaming news coverage done via video. And then I realized that I do watch one regularly.
It is an editorial in the form of a review, so it is news-ish. But here is the thing, it represents an effective use of the online video format. There is enough on screen to make it worthwhile viewing as well as an effective and fast-paced audio track to go along with it. It all works and is viewable in the smallest viewing resolution and never once do we see Ben Croshaw and his hat live and in person.
Okay, we did see him once, in that episode when he was in Washington DC. I think that made a pretty strong case for him not appearing on camera again, a counter-point to his otherwise very effective use of the medium.
Some Sort of Conclusion
So those are my opinions. I have tried not to call anybody out as a negative example… though, I guess by not calling out a single good gaming podcast and exactly one good example for a gaming videocast, you might assume I hate them all. I do not. I am, however, somewhat jaded by what is available.
So aside from reinforcing my love of the power and portability of the written word, I am going to cover up my lack of any sort of a definitive conclusion with another poll.
Well, technically, just Pokemon White, but they are the same game with minor variations.
I don’t suppose it will be tough to guess how Yahtzee views the game.
Yes, it is the usual Yahtzee routine. He goes after the tropes of the Pokemon series which, admittedly, does follow a pretty set pattern game after game, and is set in a world where everybody is obsessed by Pokmeon. There are no uninterested bystanders.
It is the new year, and with that comes predictions. You can find plenty of them out there. Lots of people have them, like Tipa, Spinks, Lum (those were predictions, right?), Green Armadillo and Keen. (More linked as I find them.)
Me? I’m done with predictions. Predictions come from a position of weakness! I think my 2008, 2009, and 2010 predictions pretty much prove that.
For 2011 I am making demands!
And if my demands are not met, there will be consequences! Consequences I tell you!
You have until December 15th to meet these demands!
Stop looking so damn smug. Tell us what Titan is, ship Diablo III, and add some more content to the top end of World of Warcraft. I swear half the game is already level 85. Oh, and another sparkle pony, but something a little less frou-frou this time. And an expansion for StarCraft II. Somebody has to sell some PC games this year.
Sony Online Entertainment:
Smedley? SMEDLEY! Pull yourself together. I know those PlayStation people are bossing you around, but you make money. Certainly more than they make on hardware. Refine what you have. More server merges. Reconcile EverQuest II Live and EverQuest II Extended. Work on the PC controls for DC Universe Online because I am NOT hooking up a console controller to my PC just to play it. And finish with the Agency already, you’re starting to embarrass us all.
Just go free to play across the board already. Champions and Star Trek Online. Everybody else is doing it. But don’t screw over the lifetime subscribers. And when you go free to play, make sure you have something shiny and new to bring people back. Oh, and Neverwinter, get it out this year and don’t screw it up!
Everybody is watching you. You’re not making some single player game. You’re making an engine, an engine that is supposed to take in money and deliver the joy of being in the Star Wars universe. Don’t let those wankers in San Mateo make you ship early. Meanwhile, since you guys seem to be in the MMO driver’s seat at EA, for now, don’t screw around with Ultima Online, but do something about Warhammer Online. You’re bright guys, you’ll figure something out.
Will you put that drink down already? EVE is still going, still making money, still popular, still unique, I get it. And you are improving it over time. But really, you’re starting to look like a one-trick pony. What are all those people in Atlanta doing? You don’t have to ship something new this year, but at least make us believe you’re really working on something new. We’re starting to think you’re spending all that money you make on akvavit and exotic dancers.
Aion, City of Whatever, and Guild Wars. Is that really all you have going in North America? Well, there is Lineage II I suppose. And what do you have on your to do list? Blade & Soul? Really? Don’t bother. And let Guild Wars 2 gestate to full term, which means don’t ship it in 2011.
Your big opportunity is coming. Ship Rift at just about the time when WoW Players have finally wrapped up the high-end content and you could get… a stable half a million subscribers. Okay, that isn’t WoW numbers, but history shows that most people just stick with their favorite MMO forever due to the social network they develop. Hrmm… that is sounding like a prediction, not a demand. Okay, go and get a half a million subscribers already! By June! With your shield or on it and all that!
Other MMO Studios:
Which of you is even poised to do anything in 2011? TERA is going to be another Asian oddity, soon forgotten by the mainstream. It was all that Aventurine could do to ship Darkfall, they won’t be doing anything else. Funcom won’t get The Secret World out in 2011, they’re more likely to cut more staff. All of you other studios, select a champion and send it out to do battle. Yes, it can be TERA if you cannot find anything else, but I’m telling you it is going to be completely forgettable.
Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw:
When Star Wars: The Old Republic ships this year, review it. I know, it is a muh-more-puh-gah, but this is Star Wars and BioWare. I demand it. We all demand it!
Dr. Richard Bartle:
You were awfully quiet in 2010. And you’ve got your three level 85s in WoW now. (A very common claim these days.) Go say something controversial. Declare WoW dead. Predict SWTOR will be a failure as a virtual world. Make some news. Do an interview with those people at Massively. They’ll print anything you say.
I suppose you expect me to assign points to these, and to score my success at the end of the year? Screw that. If my demands are not met, I will just sit back and announce the consequences. And I have 11 or so months to work on that. Remember, you have until December 15th!
Jim had the bad luck to be born in the rural backwater of a kingdom that was itself a nowhere backwater in the greater scheme of things in the world.
Jim managed to escape a lifetime of mind-numbing rural monotony by getting himself enrolled in a wizard school.
It wasn’t a very good wizard school, but Jim wasn’t a particularly good student and neither side could really afford to be picky.
And then Jim died.
(I don’t think I’ve gone past page 10 at this point, in case you’re worried about spoilers.)
In death, Jim found peace and contentment. It was a stark contrast to his life. He was happy at last.
And then the necromancer raised him from the dead. Jim wanted no part of it.
However, much had changed in the decades since Jim’s demise. Death had been banished from the world. Despite numerous attempts to kill himself, Jim just kept coming back to… um… unlife. (He’s undead, after all.)
So he resigned himself to an unlife working for the necromancer. It wasn’t a tough life. He spent his shifts standing around chatting or playing cards while waiting for adventurers, often the same ones he’d seen previously, to show up so that he and his fellow undead could try to thwart them.
Life… erm, unlife… took on a routine, one familiar to some of us.
Then the angels came and began erasing his fellow undead servants of the necromancer in a way that indicated that they were not coming back, ever.
An innate sense of self preservation kicked in and Jim, along with two fellow undead, escaped from the angel apocalypse.
Then Jim realized that the angels were offering exactly what he was looking for, release from this world. Suddenly his unlife had purpose. Like the adventurers he previously opposed, he now had a quest. Now knowing it was possible, Jim went off to figure out how to die in a world where death had been all but eliminated.
Meanwhile a group of programmers were trying to figure out what was going wrong with the cutting edge fantasy MMO they were creating. Something had gone awry in Mogworld.
For a man who does not like Muh-More-Puh-Gahs, Mr. Croshaw certainly spent a lot of time writing about one. We have here a virtual virtual world, of sorts. Of course, for absurdity, life in an MMORPG certainly has potential. Many of us have asked the question, “What is the life of an NPC like?” We just haven’t padded it out to 400 pages, and probably for good reason.
You can sense the influences of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams on Mr. Croshaw’s writing. After all, his major success to date, Zero Punctuation could, with minor changes, be renamed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Video Games and seem almost totally in character.
But Jim is not Rincewind nor Arthur Dent. While he shares some characteristics with them, like a stubborn desire to go the opposite direction that everybody thinks he should and a high degree of helplessness in the face of overwhelming events, unlike the other two, the further story moved along, the less I cared about him. Once you’ve confirmed that he is just a character in a virtual world, and frankly the title tells you that much (MOG World… Massively Online Game World), you can see where things are headed.
And while he enjoys brief bouts of being the one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, I did not find his anti-hero persona compelling in, say, a Thomas Covenant sort of way. Jim just gets annoying at times. This lead to a rather uneven level of interest on my part, where I would be glued to the book for a while, and then I would hit a bad patch, lose interest, toss it on the pile of books on my nightstand, and have to work myself up to picking it up again.
Minor things also grated. The programmers, whose email and IM communications are how their views are made known in the story, have to be the worst typists ever. Yes, I know, people in general are sloppy in instant messages. But it has been my experience over the last 20 years that people who write code for a living tend not to be prone to excessive typos, or if they are then they eventually end up in careers outside of programming. Mr. Croshaw seemed to feel the need to milk instant messenger sloppiness for humor so vigorously that I’d have to say that that cow went dry very quickly and ended up with a painful teat rash well before the book was a third of the way done, the pain of said rash being shared by the reader.
Or maybe that was just me.
Anyway, for me it quickly lost any comedic charm or value and became an annoyance and a distraction.
In the end I had to think that Mr. Croshaw was hemmed in and betrayed by his own premise.
An MMORPG as a literary vehicle served the purpose of allowing Mr. Croshaw to poke fun at a gaming genre for which he has little love, but it had its revenge on him. Once you’ve declared that it is all an MMORPG, certain rules and expectations are then only ignored at the peril of losing suspension of disbelief… or whatever the gamer “that’s not how it’s done” equivalent is.
And while I won’t give away the ending, or even hint at it, I will say that I didn’t like it. But the reason I didn’t like it was mostly due to the corner into which the story had painted itself. It wasn’t bad, but it was not satisfying either. It was just the end.
Generally when I get to the end of a new book, I make one of three choices.
If I really like the book, and I know I am going to re-read it at some point, it goes in my bookcase on the upper shelves with Tolkien, Larry Niven, and Derek Robinson.
If the book left me not wanting any more, it goes in a box where it will end up donated, at a garage sale, or off to the used book store.
And then there is the middle ground. Books I might read again, some day, if the planets aligned just right. Books where I feel there is something there for me, but not enough to ensure that I’ll be up to the effort of re-reading them. Those books huddle on the lower reaches of my bookshelf and in the closet with Harry Turtledove alternate histories, all those Kurt Vonnetgut novels I read one very depressing summer, and my German copies of Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye.
(A girlfriend of mine was traveling to Germany way back in the 80s and I asked her to pick me up a paperback copy of Catch-22 in German. She came back with Catcher in the Rye. Several years later, somebody else was headed to Germany and managed to bring back Catch-22. I read both, which was a challenge given the level of my German and the heft of my German-English dictionary. Now I have too much emotionally invested in the books to part with them, but my German is so atrophied by now that I haven’t a hope of reading them again.)
“Mogworld” falls in that third category. There is something there, but I am not sure it is worth the effort of a return visit.
I do hope that Mr. Croshaw finds a better muse for his next book. He has talent. It just did not seemed to be well served by the path he chose this time.
Wednesday morning and on my checklist just above “find a job” was “read xkcd” and “watch Zero Punctuation.”
However, when I got to Zero Punctuation, it seemed to be blighted with one of the greatest non-flashing eyesore advertising schemes I’ve seen in a long time. And it was imploring me to tell somebody why my MMO is so cool!
Tell me why you think these colors are so cool
ZP was amusing and, ironically in hindsight, spent some time trashing the collection quest aspect of MMOs, which the game he was reviewing, Monster Hunter Tri, seemed to have adopted as its core game play aspect. By the end of ZP I thought that, perhaps, this ad was some MMO-trashing come-on to promote a different sort of game.
But it was not.
No, clicking on the ad lead me to the site EQII PWNZ! where it put up a little quiz asking about my current MMO. In response to each answer, the quiz would reveal a marketing blurb about EverQuest II.
EQII PWNZ because we say so
No matter which answer you select in the quiz, you get the same three responses:
Q: How satisfied are you with the amount of gameplay options in the MMO you currently play?
A: EverQuest II® has 19 customizable player races with 23 different skill classes for all-out adventuring fun whether it be PvP, PvE or crafting.
Q: About how much game content have you completed in the MMO you currently play?
A: EverQuest II has grown its fun-filled world through six expansion packs containing more than 300 expansive zones and 8,000 exciting quests.
Q: Have you ever got bored or tired of the traditional MMO grind and thought of jumping ship?
A: Well, with a new faster, easier leveling curve and directed character progression through the new Storyteller system, EverQuest II is more fun than ever before. Booyah!
I’m not sure the whole thing works. (And is “game play” one word or two?)
For example, if I am “pleasured” by the experience of my current MMO, why do I care how many races or classes EQII has?
Or, if I have only completed a small amount of the content in my current MMO, why would the admittedly huge amount of content EQII offers entice me? I haven’t finished the content in front of me.
But the capper has to be asking if I have ever gotten bored or tired (a fine distinction there, I might have opted for “bored or frustrated” were the choice mine) of the traditional MMO grind.
First, it isn’t exactly clear that what they are proposing is anything but a variation on the same old grind in a game that is as mired in the traditional MMO grind as any.
Second, you just told me about all this wonderful content you have, but now you’re saying you’ll help me zip right through. That can’t really be seen as a hearty endorsement of the content, now can it?
Then there was a little text box at the bottom of the page asking the question, “So, tell me why you’re not playing EverQuest II?” I hope somebody reads the answers, since I wrote a short tale there. I would bet that it is more likely that answers will just be tallied up as “favorable” or “unfavorable.”
And then, on submitting the web form, you get one more pass through the pink and yellow, which blend in so nicely with the ice blue of the Halas Reborn logo.
Thanks, now subscribe dammit!
And while it is new content, I am not sure Halas Reborn is really a big draw. Either you played EverQuest and remember Halas and learning to swim by falling off that raft or running the gauntlet of the great twilight conga line of monsters marching through the snow, or you didn’t, in which case you might be excused for not caring.
And, when you’re done with that page, if you want more information, it routes you back to the current page for Halas Reborn where, if you have a lapsed account, they offer a few goodies if you’ll just reactivate and come back.
Look! A kitty!
All of which isn’t really selling me. But then I am still being “pleasured” by my current MMO, mostly because that is where my regular group plays.
How about you? Convinced by any of this? Excited about Halas?
Yahtzee Croshaw, best known for his Zero Punctuation videos over at The Escapist, also has a weekly column called, cutely enough, Extra Punctuation, because nobody can ever resist pushing an analogy too far or beating a joke to death. (We had to ban analogies at the office for a while because this phenomena.)
The column is generally a response to whatever complaints he received about the previous week’s Zero Punctuation video. This week, however, nobody appeared to step up to take issue with his trashing of Borderlands, so he had to fill his two pages with other items.
So he chose to take a look at that oft mentioned bone of contention on the virtual world front, “Why do people insist on playing a multi-player game solo?” A comparison to Goths (no, not those Goths, these Goths, the ones with the clove cigarettes) ensues. And then we learn his horrible Team Fortress 2 secret.