Aug 28, 2007

[Age of Conan: What's So 'Mature' About It?]

At's forums, I keep seeing post after post by AoC fanboys gleefully holding up every example of female nudity, sex, and gore in their game reasons why 'WoW kiddies and immature brats won't be mucking up this game!' I just have to lol.
(They also mention the complexity of the game mechanics as another assurance of 'older players.' I dunno about that, MMOs aren't rocket science. Now if the learning curve is overly steep, that may make a difference, but then that also turns off plenty of older players who just don't have the patience for that kind of thing, and it's hardly a guarantee of a certain maturity range.)

It's wierdly similar to how Vanguard fanboys kept saying how all the 'hardcore' level grinds and grueling travel time in their game would ensure a 'mature' playerbase (and repel those pesky WoW kiddies), too. What it ended up doing was giving the game fewer overall players, period.

For an MMO with a smaller player population, it tends to be easier for people to blacklist asshats, because word spreads faster. Therefore, people tend to try to behave better to avoid being ostracized (in theory). World of Warcraft's greatest weakness is that, with huge numbers of players and easy server-transfer services, troublemakers can easily escape bad reputations. In other words, the large number of idiots in WoW is not directly related to it's lack of blatant T&A. =P

It doesn't help that AoC's devs can't seem to think of ways to hype their game that don't include the equivalent of shouting 'Whee! Titties!" Check these quotes from E3, by Jorgen Thereldsen, Funcom's Product Director::
"It's a mature game. Hyboria is a brutal world. It's savage. It's violent. It's sexy. There's no pink hearts and pretty fireballs. Heads will roll!"
"We have boobs in our game!"
"See? It's good to be a healer. You have a naked lady buffing you!"

And, when watching a clip of an incubus character: "You have to watch the idle animation. Watch! It will cycle into the hip-thrust animation."
(He then angled the game camera up under the demon's loincloth to try and show off it's genitals. All while scantily clad 'booth babes' handed out shrunken head 'party favors' to the audience.)

For some reason, I get more of a 'frat party' vibe than a 'maturity' vibe from this game. Maybe Funcom honestly doesn't know the difference? It seems a lot of their fanboys don't, at any rate. With every new example of T&A or violence, they get more and more convinced that only the most 'grown up' players will be playing Age of Conan. Seeing as how every other rated M game available has plenty of kids under 17 playing them, I'm not sure where they get that confidence.

Is Funcom really that dismissive of the facts showing that the overall gaming audience is more diverse now than ever? Or, perhaps like CliffyB's brother, they have only disdain for anyone that doesn't fit their idea of a 'real gamer'? Jorgen's subtle jab at women gamers by mentioning 'no pink hearts or sparkles' in their game (because that's TOTALLY the deciding factor in what games girl gamers like best, tee hee!) hints a lot to what their attitude is towards any inclusivity: it's pathetic and 'wussy'. And for female gamers like me, that's an attitude we're all too familiar with. And it's a major turn-off.

Narrowing their intended demographic to the extreme stereotype of 'gamer dudes', while at the same time intentionally alienating most women and/or anyone not into gratuitous imagery, seems really self-defeating on Funcom's part. Vanguard's community also touted how they only wanted the 'most hardcore' players in their game, with no welcome for 'inferior' players. And designing gameplay around that attitude was one of the many factors in the game's failed launch.

Upcoming games like Warhammer Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, etc. are all vying for players attention. Can Age of Conan afford to be so polarizing in it's design choices in this future competitive (and rapidly diversifying) market? We'll have to wait and see.

Aug 24, 2007

[Are WMDs Bind-on-Pickup?]

This is old, but still hil-freaking-arious: 
"The head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, Kevin Zuccato, has warned that terrorists can gain training in games such as Second Life and another game known as World of Warcraft, using weapons similar to those in the real world." 
Apparently Mr. Zuccato thinks these weapons are "similar to those in the real world." o_O
...And they claim gamers are the ones with a tenuous grasp on reality.

Related Reading: Pentagon Researcher Conjures Warcraft Terror Plot

Aug 21, 2007

[Horizons: The MMO That Just.Won't.Die.]

  If you're familiar with the debacle that was the launch of Vanguard (and the subsequent drama-riffic crash and burn of it's developer, Sigil), then the saga of Horizons: Empire of Istaria will sound mighty familiar:

1. Game developer (Artifact Games) promises all kinds of cool, innovative features.
2. CO is an idealist with little clue how to run a company, deal with employees, or actually make significant progress.
3. Original publisher drops the game before it's released.
4. Bugtastic, broken-content, horrible performance, and lack of many advertised features plague the game's release.
5. Bankruptcy of the development studio ensues.
6. Original devs create a 'new' company, Tulga, (*cough*tax shelter*cough*) and maintain the game on minimal life support.

  Only for some reason, Horizons inspires near-religious loyalty among it's (tiny) remaining playerbase. Seriously, it's pretty amazing. I really think only a few hundred people even play this game, but despite the huge grinds, the 90% content-free gameworld, and ridiculously bad game client, these people just keep on keepin' on.

  After about three years of this, Tulga finally got it's lifeline pulled, and some shady ghetto-publisher bought the rights to the game. Things went from bad to worse (my opinion is that EI Interactive is also a tax-shelter joke company like Tulga, but that's neither here nor there). Basically, for the past year, absolutely ZERO has been done to develop or fix the game, aside from keeping the servers plugged in. Even billing no longer works, allowing ex-players to play the game even though they no longer have paying accounts (Not that I'm guilty of that at all... *cough*)

  After a year of THAT, someone apparently has busted out the defibrilator once again; some Tulga employees, under the name 'Virtrium', in cahoots with some of the players themselves, have apparently organized a takeback of their game.

  All I have to say is... holy CRAP. I mean, I know we MMORPGers get attached to our games, but this has to be one of the most obsessive lifesaving efforts I've ever seen.

 Now, I've played Horizons. Despite all the bad reviews, the game had three aspects I heard good things about: flying playable dragons (woohoo!), intricate crafting, and a strong community. In my opinion, the world is also one of the best-crafted ones I've seen, in terms of landscaping and placement of cool landmarks for explorers to stumble upon (one of my favorite MMO pastimes).
  However, the level/crafting grinds are atrocious, unlimited multiclassing means players can get to godmode and never need to play with anyone else, and, like I've said before, 90% of the world isn't even populated with mobs. And the fanbase, being so small, has a lot of unpleasant incestuous drama and clique-ism that all isolated small groups tend to develop after a while.

  In my opinion, it's the presence of free-flight for dragons, and the fact that dragons are playable race in the first place, is what inspires a lot of this rabid fan-loyalty. Never underestimate the power of dragons. =P

  But I have to admit to being really baffled by these latest turns of events. Even as someone who liked the game for the first few months of playing, it reached the point where the grinds, poor game client performance, lack of content, and broken gameplay just didn't make it worth my time or money, dragons or no dragons.

  And yet... the die hard fans and devs of this game just will not give up trying to make Horizons fulfill the potential they see in it, even if it takes years longer than most sane people would tolerate. I don't know whether to be impressed by their passion, or moved to pity by their inability to move on with their lives.

ETA: Horizons: Empire of Istaria has now been renamed Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted.

Aug 19, 2007

[It's Just a Sexist Genre]

It's pretty obvious that misogynist and homophobic behavior is almost required in most 'geek' fandoms, especially gaming. When the ultimate insults are either to accuse someone of being homosexual, or of being like a woman, it's hard to honestly argue otherwise. Hearing, over and over, that what you are is equated with everything pathetic, annoying, and weak by the people you're playing with, is incredibly tiring and hurtful. And no, the answer isn't "Just shut up and let the asshats talk however they like."

Women are often systematically driven out and/or silenced in many of these places; it's not that we don't exist in your fandom. We need to stop tolerating this kind of thing in order to try to 'fit in',and guys need to start accepting more responsibility for their behavior.

Instead of wondering why you don't see more women around in certain 'geek' communities, or just assuming (wrongly) that 'Girls just don't like [insert geeky interest here]. All of us (especially guys, being the majority) need to decide to step up and start breaking the cycle.

[I'm Colorblind; I See Everyone as White]

This essay on race in Legend of Earthsea is really amazing. Being white myself, I never ever thought about any of those things or how they might affect someone else. It's a real eye-opener.

It also makes the mini-series and anime of the books, where everyone is cast as white, really kind of embarassing.

[Gender and Game Design]

A great blog about gender inclusive game design and why it IS important.

The gaming community in general is basically a bastion for homophobic, misogynistic expression, you only have to visit a forum/play an online game for a few days to see it.
But not that surprising, given how in the 'real world' isn't much different. It's just become socially unacceptable to act that way at work or in public, but the internet lets people flaunt their true colors.

What's sad is all the female gamers who are so desperate to retain 'honorary guy' status (and the respect that only being considered a 'guy' can give you) that they lash out and defend that kind of behavior along with the rest of the jerks.

The argument that "90% of all gamers are teen males, deal with it" is not only based on flawed facts, but only seems that way simply because 90% of all online gaming website are run by and for people with those kind of attitudes, at the very least unwilling to care about having a more inclusive community.

The game industry itself even suffers from this attitude. And folks wonder why people consider gaming so juvenile and don't think it's worthwhile?

[The Chronicles of Spellborn]

Gamewatch: The Chronicles of Spellborn

The game I'm planning on leaving WoW for, if all goes well. I've been vaguely following it for almost two years now, and I really love the art style and lore. They promise lore-driven gameplay, skill based PvP and combat, and a
character customization system similar to City of Heroes. In other words, gear is for looks only, and stats are applied with 'sigils' that you slot into items. So your character's appearance is totally up to you. Score! =)

The tentative release date is for later this year (Q4).