Of MMOs Loved and Lost  

Posted by RogueDash1 in

It has been over three years since I cancelled my World of Warcraft subsrciption and ended my time in MMORPGs. My first foray into massively multiplayer online role playing games was Final Fantasy XI. I picked it up a couple months after it came out, when Christmas break started in 2003. I played excessively until the summer of 2004, when my summer job ate into all my free time. I wasn't able to get back into FFXI when school started up again, so I decided to try something new. There was an open beta for Saga of Ryzom, so I joined for a few weeks, but ultimately felt that it suffered from the same problem of FFXI, namely, requiring a huge time commitment in order to accomplish anything. Later that year (nearly on my birthday), World of Warcraft came out, so I picked that up day one and played it through the summer of 2006, when lack of time due to a real job and generally feeling depleted on WoW led me to cancel my subscription. I also played Guild Wars briefly starting Christmas 2004, but the game wasn't interesting enough to pull me away from WoW.

I say all this because at E3 this year, Square Enix announced that they were releasing Final Fantasy XIV. My gamer's interest piqued, I decided to go through my thoughts and feelings on MMOs; what I liked about them, what I didn't like, why I stopped playing, and why FFXIV might draw me back.

I'll start generally with what I liked about MMORPGs. Part of it is what draws me to RPGs in general, whether computer or paper and pencil. And that is having fantastic new worlds to explore and discover. I am an explorer at heart, and RPGs provide the best opportunity to see new places and learn new things about them without actually getting on a plane and going somewhere. But then RPGs combine their vast worlds with rich and involved stories and now you can actually influence the world in which you travel, whether as hero or villian. I consider interesting worlds with interesting stories to be the minimum requirements of a good RPG.

FFXI, WoW, and SoR all excelled in the area of expansive worlds that were fun and interesting to explore. Guild Wars fell flat in this regard, having very linear zones that mostly existed as monster filled gauntlets where you just ran through to get the end. With each zone being a separate and distinct path that was largely unrelated to the next twisty trail you would follow.

Final Fantasy also had separate zones (a limitation imposed by the PS2), but is was hardly a railroad. The outside zones were big and expansive and the caves and dungeons were large enough to get lost in. World of Warcraft had zones, but they blended into eachother, with boundaries where the theme of the zone changed, but not having load screens between one and the other. You could run across the whole continent without ever encountering a loading screen. I did not play Ryzom enough to cross the world, but I did range pretty far from the starting city without running across a loading screen, or even a different environment (over two hours on foot without leaving the desert, before I got eaten by a giant monster).

I much prefer the open worlds to having distinct zones that you must load each time you run through a door or change areas. I hope (and expect, really) that Final Fantasy XIV will take that route, as it should not be limited by memory or processing power as FFXI was. As far as exploring goes, I hope that you can jump off edges or cliffs, or even jump at all, swim, and otherwise travel through or over things other than flat ground. Both WoW and Ryzom allowd this, but FFXI did not (could not is probably more acurate, given the PS2's power). It's ridiculous in this day and age that you can't have your character jump off a two foot ledge or climb over a fence. If I want my character to climb a tree and watch the birds, or drop fireballs on unsuspecting adventurers, I should be able to. At one point in WoW, I decided to swim up the coast of one of the continents. I discovered ship wrecks and fishing shacks that were simply not accessible on foot. Points to Blizzard for actually putting stuff out in the middle of nowhere that takes an hour long swim to get to.

Speaking of limitations, I need to give props to Ryzom, which had an incredible draw distance in their world. The city I started in was on the rim of a great canyon, and you could see to the other side of it. Not in detail of course, but I was impressed that you could still see the lay of the land rather than having it fade out into an opaque haze as it does in every other game. In fact, my two hour trek was inspired by my seeing an interesting formation way out that I wanted to go see up close. It was a plateau that jutted out into the canyon that looked like it wasn't attached to the rim wall. I wanted to see if you could get onto the plateau. Yes, it was so far away it took me two hours to run to it, though admittedly I was dodging monsters way above my level to get there. And I could get out on it. When I got close, I saw that there was one of those wood and rope bridges going across to the plateau. Which is where I died to something big and scary.

So that's exploration. Now let's talk about stories. Stories, histories, backgrounds, this is the other half of what makes exploration fun. Part of it is discovering lost civilizations, ancient wars, or forgotten religions. It helps make the world believable, lived in, a part of some great tapestry. The other part is current events; conflict, politics, trade and commerce. These are the things that give a world a dynamism, a sense of activity and action, and, this is critical for an RPG, your ability to influence what is going on.

WoW, of course, excelled at this. Taking place in an already existing universe, WoW alread had an enormous back story and history to draw on, and everything you did in the ame was based on a quest. And each quest had a story with it, whether it was a simple excuse to go kill monsters, or a drawn out storyline that took many quests to resolve, you had a reason for what you did beyond simply leveling your character. This more than anything disguised the grind, the endless killing of monsters in order to level.

Final Fantasy also had quests, though they were in addition to leveling, rather than the cause of it. The normal quests were generally as interesting as the one shot quests in WoW, though much harder just by the nature of the game (more on that later). Much more satisfying were the story quests, each nation having its own story line. The story quests were classic Final Fantasy, following political intrigue and ancient mysteries. I thought it was much better that the story quests in WoW, even though I never finished the story line.

But there is a problem with story driven quests in MMOs. You solve the problem, save the day, and nothing changes, because the next set of adventurers need to do the quest too. More a problem with WoW that FFXI, simply by having more story based quests, you begin to wonder how many times you can rid the world of bandits, pirates, orcs, or paladins before you wonder just what it is all that heroing is accomplishing. You can complete all the story lines you want, but the world itself never changes. Not a problem with the mundane 'fetch me a whatever' type quests, if you save the world from the same all consuming evil every Monday and Thursday night, the story and associated heroism looses much of its luster. Wondering what the point of it all was was one of the reasons I quite WoW.

I mentioned earlier that playing Final Fantasy XI was hard. The big glaring flaw of FFXI was that it required you to play in a group. In order to level, you needed a full and balanced group in order to kill mobs that actually gave experience. Try to solo something that gave experience and you would die. Playing in a group is fine. It is one of the joys of the MMO. But finding a complete group was always an ordeal. By the time I reached the mid levels, finding a viable group would regularly take over an hour. And if you wanted to quest instead of level, you still needed a group of some kind in order to fight your way through whatever mobs were between you and your objective. And quests groups were rare to non-existent unless you had friends.

Whereas WoW was solo friendly. You could do most things on your own. For some of the harder quests, and kind of ad hoc group would do. You only needed a full and balanceed group on the harder instance dungeons and raid dungeons. I could generally complete two or three quests in WoW, or often a whole dungeon, in less time than it took me to get a group in FFX. This and this alone is the reason I quit Final Fantasy. In WoW, you can have fun if you only have an hour a night a couple nights a week. But in Final Fantasy, you need a four to six hour block to do anything, and you will still spend most of that time doing nothing except finding a group.

Square Enix, having learned from WoW, has stated that FFXIV will be solo friendly and casual gamer friendly. In college, playing games for six hours straight was doable, and quite common for me in both WoW and FFXI. But now that I'm out in the real world, I only have a few hours each evening to split between my hobbies and activities. Not a few hours for each hobby. So if I pick up an MMO again, it has to be one that I can play for a couple hours only a couple nights a week. Because I have to fit that in around church, Warhammer (the table top game, not the MMO), paper and pencil RPGs, seeing friends in real life, and chores. The days of me playing video games for most of the day are long gone. So if Square Enix delivers on FFXIV being casual and solo friendly, and I see no reason why they can't, I will probably be picking up the game when it comes out.

There is a reason why I am more attracted to Final Fantasy than to World of Warcraft. WoW is a fun game and there have been several expansions since I quit, but despite its flaws, I still have fond memories of FFXI. There were just parts of it liked so much more than I did WoW. The first thing has to do with the artistic styles of the two games. WoW has a cartoony, exaggerated style that is bright and colorful. Final Fantasy had a realistic style, with more muted colors that resembled the real world, though thankfully not the brown and gray 'realistic' common to first person shooters (I blame Saving Private Ryan and the 487 World War II shooters that it spawned for that). The landscapes of the different zones, and the architecture of the cities, were evocative of places you could find here on earth, with just enough fantasy elements to let you know that you are indeed in a world of magic.

Nothing in WoW suggested that it was going to take itself seriously. It looked more like Saturday morning cartoons than, say, Lord of the Rings. Many quests were tongue in cheek, the zones were overused fantasy cliches, and WoW hit that magic spot where that just made it good fun, rather being absurd. Final Fantasy, being realistic in style, gave a much better sense of adventure and danger than WoW ever did. There was an atmosphere to FFXI that pervaded everything in the world.

Now there is one interesting thing on style that I want to bring up from Ryzom. In Ryzom, there were herds of beasties roaming around, like an alien version of the African savannah. There were groups of herbivores numbering in dozens wandering around, and small packs of predators that would hunt them down (or you, if you weren't careful). Building something that resembled an actual ecosystem isn't something I've ever seen done in any other video game. I don't really expect it in FFXIV, but it is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in an MMO. They even had little baby animals. And the herds would scatter if you came running in hacking with a sword. Ryzom probably had the most interesting world of any of the MMOs I played, but it lacked greatly in stories and quests, and like FFXI, it required groups and time commitment in order to level. I think Ryzom intended to have largely player driven stories. I don't know how well that turned out, but I came back to it about a year after it released, just to see if it had gone anywhere, and one of the players threw a big gala ball in one of the cities palaces that I got invited to. There was an actual in game invitation too, as in it showed up in my player journal, not just someone texting me about it.

Another thing I liked about FFXI and SoR was that each player got little apartment you could decorate and store stuff in. The in game effects are minimal (WoW had a bank for storing extra stuff), but just having your own place in the game was kind of neat. Ryzom would actually let you get halls for guilds and such, but I never got far enough in the game to join a guild. It's a little thing, but I hope it's something that FFXIV keeps around.

I also liked the FFXI job system better than the classes from WoW. Now WoW certainly had more abilities for each class, but FFXI had more jobs in general, and I liked having the ability to change jobs. In WoW, if you wanted to play a different class, you made a different character. In FFXI, you just changed jobs, and your level, hit points, and the like would adjust to your job. You could also combine jobs. I don't think this worked out quite as well in practice as Square Enix would have hoped, with only a few combinations actually being useful, but with a more casual focus you should be able to get away with more interesting combinations and I hope something similar makes an appearance in Final Fantasy XIV.

Sadly there is little information out there on FFXIV right now, though Square Enix has said that it will be similar enough to FFXI that you can make a character very similar to the one you had in FFXI. Which means I will definately be rolling a mithra black mage again. Magical firepower for the win. It's still a while before it comes out, so for now I'll just have to wait and see which way the game develops.

Economics 101  

Posted by RogueDash1 in

Courtesy of Unqualified Reservations. Go read it.

Liberals in Control  

Posted by RogueDash1 in ,

America is on the wrong track because, over the past 50 years, no matter who was in the White House, the Leftists have held the reigns in the culture-creating industries of education, news and entertainment and they have used their powers not to advance truth, beauty, justice, morality, decency, or anything else that is good.

Even Sayet, over on Big Hollywood

This from the man who some time ago claimed that liberals are evil. Actually all people are evil, but there is something to Sayet's claim about the Liberal takeover of education and media. That something being that as the custodians and teachers of knowledge and culture, those in the education system, who generate the ideas and policies, and those in media who spread the ideas, have enormous power in America.

The problem is that they do not teach truth, but falsehoods. Falsehoods that keep them in their behind-the-scenes power. Moldbug over at Unqualified Reservations has a very long open letter to progressives in which he explains how that works (it has about a dozen parts, each many pages long).

It explains why a Republican congress, with a Republican president, with parity on the Supreme Court, still went left for 8 years. It's why the Reagan revolution didn't last, and why, in the future, when the Republicans sweep back into power, we'll continue our progressive journey. They are all progressives to one degree or another, having been taught by extreme progressives in their political science and fill-in-the-blank studies classes.

Meanwhile, in the real world, we are left to suffer with the consequences of whatever policy gets enacted. Suffering professors and politicians alike are allowed to skip over.

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