Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: Retrospective, Observations, Prospects

I’ve played a surprising number of MMOs this year. None of them held my interest for more than 40 days. Here are the MMOs I’ve spent more than an hour playing and a quick thought on each. This isn’t meant to be decisive objective analysis.

  • Ryzom – sparsely populated, antiquated interface. There’s certainly potential here, but the product may simply be too dated.
  • Perpetuum Online (Closed Beta) – Eve Online, but on the ground with mechs. Has potential but I did not want to grind through the non-existent early game during beta.
  • Alganon Online (Open Beta) – I will not try this game again even if it were offered free of charge.
  • Aion – I thought I could play a grindy game and enjoy it as a meditative experience. I was wrong.
  • DDO – It was fun to duo until I hit the paywall, then it became too much work to track down free content so I lost interest.
  • World of Warcraft – Still the premier themepark game. I can’t stand the triviality of it even though the game was some fun to duo through when I was in the right mood.
  • Eve Online – Normal activity is way too monotonous in this game. It’s constant partial-AFK unless something serious happens—and something serious barely ever happens unless you spend a lot of time playing.
  • Fallen Earth – A crafting themepark with awkward action-oriented combat and a tantalizingly open world. The gameplay felt like a complete grind to me. I didn’t think it was worth writing an article about the game.
  • Darkfall – A completely trivial character advancement scheme (no specialization even six months after release?), easily exploited for quite some time) that would be better off much more flat and much less grindy. “Your mastery of Rest has increased” is one of the dumber concepts I’ve encountered in an MMO.
  • Atlantica Online – Super grindy, but had a novel-enough combat system and some cool guild perks like guild crafting and town ownership in a themepark game.
  • Lord of the Rings Online – Though not as polished and streamlined as the WoW themepark, if I were to choose a themepark game to play, it would be LotRO. Good variety in goals, non-standard class concepts with some innovation, and a reasonably open-feeling world kept me playing LotRO and actually enjoying the experience for longer than I’ve been able to stand any other MMO.

Other games that I have enjoyed this year more than most of the MMOs listed above:

  • Settlers of Catan – A neat little board game with a random map and enough chance to keep play interesting. Maybe there’s a little too much chance for my liking.
  • Europa Universalis 3: Complete + Heir to the Throne – I love EU3. Grand strategy at its best.
  • Borderlands – Diablo with guns. A fun time—especially in co-op.
  • Table Tennis/Ping-Pong – Probably my most-played game of 2009. Since June my father and I play 3 to 5 11-point games per night. We’re not great but we have fun.
  • Blood Bowl – The most recent LRB rules sustained this game further than the software that implemented them could have.
  • AI War – A good indie RTS, though it can be a bit boring at times.

What have I learned this year?

  • People think a lot less about game design—even game designers—than I expected.
  • It’s difficult to write about game design when you don’t have any built-in credibility and you’re primarily writing for gamers, not people who actually have a vested interest in learning about game design.
  • Mind-numbing but pleasant and ego-tickling content is pervasive and popular, both in blogging and in games.
  • I’m in a small minority with regards to my gaming interests.
  • Don’t talk about other bloggers unless you’re praising them, even if you aren’t being serious.
  • A blog’s popularity doesn’t justify reading it, even if it happens to cover the genre you write about.
  • There are a very small number of blogs about MMO design that are worth reading if you spend much time thinking and writing about MMO design, even if you are an amateur.

Some goals for next year:

  • Consolidate several of the essays I’ve posted here into longer, stronger, and more pointed articles on game design.
  • Make some kind of index that will let new readers figure out what the hell I’m doing here. It’s currently quite confusing to start reading more recent articles without having some concept of the concepts I posted about earlier.
  • Participate in the creation of at least one game that sees the light of day. (Currently I’m involved in two MMO-related projects with small teams and I have a few personal projects I’d like to bring to fruition.)
  • Write more clearly. This may mean posting less often—hopefully Mot will come back and pick up the slack so I can really dig in and put out some good writing. I may be past the phase where I’m just spewing ideas and seeing what sticks.


QE said...

If it helps, I followed a link here a couple of months ago and started reading without knowing whether you had any 'built-in credibility' for design, and I consider you a lot more credible than some of the professionals I read.
(No offence if you _are_ a professional; I just mean whoever it is you think would have 'built-in credibility')

Any chance you can do a run-down on the small number of worthwhile blogs?

Good luck with the resolutions.

Andrew said...

"Make some kind of index that will let new readers figure out what the hell I’m doing here."

When I was a focused blogger (as opposed to my current scatter-brained approach) I had a Blogger list in the upper left of my site that served as an index to my "must read" feral druid posts. I have to assume that it was useful to people, because when I took it away (after quitting WoW) I received a tonne of email asking me to restore it. A similar approach may work for you.

Gravity said...

I enjoy your thoughtful and consistent analysis, have a great 2010.