Listmas 2014: Times of the MMO Tourist

This was an absolutely huge year for mmo gamers. Say what you will about the games but it’s not often we have a calendar that is this packed with huge releases. I might bitch but each was great in their own ways, providing some amazing experiences and of course lots of amazing environments

So to celebrate their I thought I’d do a top three in a couple categories.

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Storytelling and a Narcissistic Narrative

Over at game Industry biz there was a recent interview with the Head of Narrative design at Arenanet, Leah Hoyer and while I was ready to read and create another rant aimed at the inadequacy of GW2 and its “living” story it made me think of the genre’s approach overall.

Now I do believe story is important for games, pretty obvious really. Even mmo’s benefit from having a base of lore as well as context to player actions, it creates better engagement in activities and immersion within the game world.

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kentucky Route Zero

I’ve just finished the third act now and there is something truly entrancing about Kentucky Route Zero. A game I don’t think many have tried or even heard of and yet, it is one of, if not the most engaging narrative I’ve ever experienced. It comes in the simplest of packages. An aesthetic that could have been created in paint and yet the mastery over the scenes, with the direction and design could be comparable to the film great directors, the story equivalent to a great work of fiction.

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Political and Religious Ideology in ESO

While I’ve been rather critical about the story in Elder Scrolls there are quite a few elements I really enjoy. I’ve talked about just how detailed much of the story is within and while they do tend to repeat certain themes much of it is tied into the overarching lore of the world and how it relates to the people. It is these stories I enjoy just by how much they immerse within the world, for all there boring nature at times it becomes not just a simple act of slaying to complete quests but being a part of a deep background.

The political elements within always seem to get my attention. Now I’m not talking about the entirely uncharacteristic and childish attitude of the alliance leaders, that’s rather ridiculous but more the way the various faction people get about in their daily life. Throughout these stories you get a picture of the various pressures place on certain groups and just the adherence to certain cultural Standards

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Silly Stories

MMO’s have never been the greatest medium for telling stories. Games in general have never seemed to take it that seriously with combat, and the mechanics surrounding it being the focus and then the story being re-purposed to fit. As such, the actual story elements that bind it together are usually quite week and very reliant on tropes in order to fill in the gaps that are often left out. It’s easy to use them as they require less information for the players to understand but they really aren’t optimal for a good story and only serve to discredit any sense of coherency with the world.

I’ve written about my issues with the Hero complex mmo’s seem to have, regardless of the conflicting nature of a multiplayer space. That will always remain a part I tend to hate but there are a couple more issues I’ve had in my recent gaming that I’d also like to add to the list.

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Storytelling and the Adventurer

Syl over at MMOgypsy wrote a rather lovely piece dissecting the stories in mmo’s that was really quite wonderful. It is clear that the narrative in stories is just not well fashioned with creating interesting gameplay and enabling player agency. In mmo’s especially the approach to storytelling that has more in common with that of the big screen has created a discrepancy between how we play and the story we experience. And if our MMORPG experiences are any indication, the current style of lore and storytelling do not actually make for much player immersion.

It’s hard not to feel disillusioned with the state of story in mmo’s with what’s around and especially after experiencing what GW2 has to offer.. I’ve been there too but I’m not sure yet that it is time to dismiss mmo’s from being able to tell a worthy tale. I am not sure yet in absolute terms that mmo’s cannot establish a viable and entertaining narrative but I couldn’t think of a way how until I read a post by Rowan Blaze and one key part about enjoying being an adventurer far more than a hero and that is the distinction between the awful narrative Syl describes and the wonderful stories we experience.
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Tales from the Frontline: Defence Quest

My play last night began with hearing a lot of chatter over ts. Directions and reports going back and forth between guildies, our glorious leader as well as another commander in the same borderland. We had a tenuous hold on hills, and an unupgraded keep that we were adamant the enemy was not getting a hold of.

Unfortunately they had just broken through the outer wall on the cliff side and a fight had ensued. I ran as quickly as I could from our spawn point, not even stopping as I threw a couple of marks down on an enemy thief harassing a comrade. Then it was up the stairs and straight into the large fight in front of me… Balls deep as the expression goes (which I actually only got now as I was typing)

It was so much fun holding back the Sanctum of Rall zerg at the breach point so that the tide could not come through to pillage our defensive siege littered throughout. Enemy warriors and guardians plunged forward to make a gap and then falling back, our own making similar manouvres as an attempt to win by attrition. And there I was, laying down my own blend of condition based carnage, as well as the occasional well timed putrid mark, well of darkness (which are well suited to these contained points), and the occasional fear to punt people of the cliff as support.
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GW2: Overused Themes and a Guided Story

Over the weekend I finally got around to completing near the rest of the story, leaving me what I think amounts to a couple of missions and that whole Arah dungeon left. All I can think at the mouse mentioned regarding it though is that I’m not impressed… like at all.

I dislike the story, I dislike the implementation, I dislike the characters, and most of all I dislike the adherence to overused story tropes. That may sound a bit mean but that’s unfortunately the way I feel. I can only attest to the story parts that I didn’t skip past, and that unfortunately isn’t many but every time I did skip I was getting the same feeling it was all “blah, blah, blah.. Help us, blah blah, great evil/peril, blah blah fight this random mob/s”. It just seems so unimaginative in so many ways yet I know the can at least pull together a reasonable story as the books that have come out so far were rather decent for game literature.
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Secret Sunday: New additions and Long term aspirations

Finally got around to the Tyler Freeborn missions and they are definitely  an amazing collection of events, cutscenes and mechanics that keep you engaged.

It’s nice that even after all this time they are still giving people a reason to visit the earlier areas. Even without having numerous areas, when people have finished leveling these lower zones always turn into a ghost town but here I still see people running around who are quite obviously well geared doing the rounds. It makes each area feel more important, busier and like your not alone playing a supposed mmo when you can’t play as often.

The new update once again has us visiting older areas. The end of days event had everyone traversing the world and the Templars home town, and exploring the disappearance of Tyler Freeborn. These updates have been well planned to involve people in the entire game world as well as different parts of the map. I would really like to see this aspect taken on by more developer, give people a reason to go back even just for a silly event because constantly having it in the same place neglects the rest of the world… Not to mention is rather boring.

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Walking Dead and the Personal Touch

And here I am being once again transfixed to a game because of it’s story and emotional experience. A year or even just six months ago I would never have said there wasn’t a game that could compare itself to a book in terms of story elements and deep characters, even comparing games to movies is a stretch as you often don’t feel that emotional invested when your playing which is odd in a way as you are far more apart of the situation then either media. It’s probably because in any game of whatever genre you want to throw a stick at the gameplay and mechanics are nearly always the priority in development with story elements and characters getting a quick treatment mainly just to bind it all together in some sort of mildly comprehensible way.. story, like pvp in an mmo, is the afterthought.

But here in the Walking dead it is woven so well throughout the game you can’t help but marvel at their wonderful imagination and understanding of the human element as well as how well it is crafted to be part of the game. Every part of the story has been well planned and the mechanics present have been made to revolve around the situation and as a way to progress the story and elicit your decisions. As far as adventure game mechanics go The Walking Dead is actually quite light on them, and what’s there is often rather simplistic. It still employs the item find type gameplay you may be used to but it’s not some type of play where your searching through many frames for what you need with the chance to miss them, no, everything is clearly marked. The game doesn’t employ adventure game reasoning, it is straight forward pick up item and use when given the option and most times your companions will spell out what is needed in general conversation and then put you off in the right direction.

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