Monday, March 24, 2008

What The Hell Do I Want Out Of An MMO Anyway?

Ten years ago, during my infancy in Ultima Online, I eagerly logged on at every play session, gleefully throwing myself into the savage early days of the game, wishing it would last forever.

The game has. And, my house and my characters are still there. There are even more things to do these days. Yet, that feeling I once had is long since dead and buried. I tried many other MMOPRGs, including Everquest, World War 2 Online, Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft - and they were mostly very shallow experiences that did not capture that pioneering spirit I felt in UO's early days.

I'm not sure what the UO team could do at this point to get that back. They could add more content, specifically for the vast, underutilized oceans in the game, but I doubt even that would get me overly excited and into the game like I once was. No, I need a new game, but not another level - treadmill game.

So what the hell do I want anyway?

I want a fully 3D massively-multiplayer game with customizable camera angles. The graphics don't have to be absolute state of the art, but should be pretty good.

I want a home in the game - one of UO's greatest strengths - that allows me to customize it as I see fit. I also want it to be different geographically from other homes. I don't want an apartment in a building, or a prefab box in a long line of them. I want to stake my claim to a virtual world in a unique spot that no one else has.

I want a dynamic world. Large scale events happen that change the world whether I'm there or not. My home is vulnerable to those events (natural disasters, monster attacks, enemy armies taking the territory that my house is in), but my items in that house are either insured or secured in some manner. And the plot remains mine.

I want a customizable avatar. I can make it look like me, or some idealized variation of me.

I want social aspects and solo aspects.

I want built-in voice chat and many other ways to communicate.

I want powergamers discouraged and out-of-game transactions to be impossible.

I want and end to that sickening feeling that, because I actually have a job and a life, I'll never be able to keep up with those that don't.

I want it on a console instead of a PC. Everyone therefore will basically have the same system setup and I won't have to worry about upgrading my computer every five minutes. Plus, I want to play it on the couch.

I want it to be linked with my blog, my myspace account, and any other web identities that I want to be publically associated with.

I want a zero-tolerance stance on cheating and other standard internet stupidity.

I want an active in-game content team out there doing random things. The scenario I've always envisioned for UO goes that way - I'm out fishing or mining, and one of these paid content people appears to my character and offers a unique quest or reward suited for that character. And instead of the challenge always being "go here and kill this monster", give me challenges that test my knowlege of the in-game lore, the world geography, and things like that.

I want it to be fun and stay fun. Never repetitive.

Is that too much to ask? Somebody make this game, please.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beaten : Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney : Trials and Tribulations

Last night I had the bittersweet honor to finish Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney : Trials and Tribulations, the third and final Phoenix Wright game in the Ace Attorney series. The game had five episodes in it - the first and fourth ones both flashback episodes where I got to play as Mia, Phoenix's mentor. The second and third ones were standard Phoenix Wright fare, involving zany characters and convoluted plots.

The final episode, which I finished last night, was an epic ending, bringing all the characters and plotlines from all three games together for one whopping huge dramatic conclusion. There were many moments during the last day of court that I literally shouted out in amazement, so drawn in was I by the story unfolding on my little Nintendo DS.

As I have written in the past, story and characters are the strength of the Ace Attorney series, and this game - especially that last episode - has been one of the best interactive storytelling experiences I've ever had in gaming. Now, it's on to the next game, Apollo Justice : Ace Attorney, where I have little doubt that a whole new slew of captivating characters and wacky stories await me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Okay, I Get The Hype Now

Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii. I approached this game as a complete outsider - I'd never played any of the previous Smash Brothers games, and I've never been into fighting games. Plus, I'm old. That being said, it turns out I really like this game, even though I'm not very good at it.

I started out this morning playing the adventure mode - called Subspace Emissary for some reason - for about an hour or so. It's a gorgeous platforming game which gives the player a chance to test out some of the characters and their moves. The story so far makes no sense whatsoever. Still, it seems like fun, and I noticed later that it's also able to be played as a two-player co-op, so maybe Monique and I will try that together at a later date.

I then tried and beat the classic mode with Kirby, who is so far my fighter of choice. It's a pretty straightforward tournament fighting game, with a few distractions like target practice thrown in.

Along the way in both the above modes I noticed I seemed to be picking up trophies, statues and little bits of paper. It turns out these are collectibles that can be viewed later. There's also a use for the coins you pick up, as ammunition in a weird shooting game where you get even more statues and things.

After a break and a nap I took the plunge and tried out the online multiplayer mode. It took several attempts to get into a brawl "with anyone", and I read later on the internet that Nintendo was having some server difficulties with it. Once I did, I had a lot of fun, noticed very little lag, and of course got my ass kicked.

I then went to the Digital Press message boards and added a bunch of them (mostly mature gamers like myself) to my friends list using Nintendo's really fun and not at all tedious in the slightest friend code system. If you're thinking that these friend codes are the same as the ones already on your Wii that you use to connect with other Wii owners, you're wrong. Those are 16 digits, the Brawl codes are 12. That's right, another huge set of numbers.

I then fought a few of the other members of the Digital Press forum and had a lot of fun, but mostly got my ass handed to me again. I can't seem to pull off the smash moves at all, and on some of the battlefields the characters get so small that it's really hard to tell what's happening. I'm gonna need a bigger screen (and I'm hoping to get one this summer for a wedding present).

If it was just one of the modes, like the classic mode, I'd feel ripped off by this game. Fortunately, Super Smash Brothers Brawl is a big package with a lot to do, and it's the totality of it all that makes it worth the money, even for a non-fan like me who sees fighting games as a short, casual diversion, and only plays online to offer himself up as fodder for the much more competent majority of players in the world.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blizzard '08 and Super Smash Brothers Brawl

The Blizzard of 2008 has come and gone here in central Ohio, setting records and leaving behind a huge mess of snow, expected to melt in the next few days and add flooding to the list of weather issues plaguing the state.

It arrived Friday morning, just after I had gotten to work, and ended last night (Saturday) around 4 PM. I had to drive home in it on Friday, during rush hour traffic, and it was a nightmare. My total of bad driving days so far this winter is now fourteen, with the first twelve occurring during morning rush hours.

Saturday was a snow day for Monique and I, and for most of the city of Columbus, as we were both able to get out of going to work. We stayed indoors and relaxed, waiting for the storm to break. Sunday morning I got up and decided to clear off our cars, which looked like this:

After clearing off our cars, and warming up mine, I decided to get it out of the parking space by doing the whole back-and-forth thing and punching through the wall of plowed snow in front of it. It's a skill I'm sure many drivers in places like this have picked up over the years, and I was immediately successful. I did the same for Monique's car later.

Feeling froggy, I decided to make a daring attempt to drive to Wal-Mart for the week's groceries. On the way there, the car in front of me spun out and into a roadside snow bank. It took the driver a few minutes to extracate himself from that situation and get moving again. This was just before a stop light, and I too had difficulty moving forward from a dead stop once the light turned green. In fact, my engine stalled out, scaring the hell out of me. Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw a SUV behind me repeat the same snowbank crash that the driver ahead of me had done so well.

Wal-Mart looked a little like one of those old nuclear war movies, where a panicked citizenry was making a run on the grocery stores, taking everything they could. The Wal-Mart staff was scrambling to restock, but some of the most basic items, from iceberg lettuce to beef, were gone. What they were stocked up on were copies of Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii.

Smash Brothers is one of the Nintendo franchises that I've never been into, mostly because I've never really been into fighting games, but the hype - oh the endless hype - regarding Brawl has been impossible to drown out. So last week I started to read up on the game. What caught my attention were features such as a decently-reviewed adventure mode, online play, and seemingly endless play modes and customization.

So, I surrendered to the hype and picked up a copy. The electronics department lady told me that they started selling it at midnight, along with about nine Wii consoles, which of course were camped and bought immediately thereafterwards.

On my way home, there was a fender-bender near Wal-Mart, and another one at that slippery spot I passed through on the way in. I made it home okay, though, and carefully eased Monique into the fact that I just bought another game. She took it well - I have a very understanding fiance'.

Monique and I tried out Super Smash Brothers Brawl a little later, trying to figure out the controls, and basically what the hell was happening on the screen sometimes. The power-ups, the weird special attacks, it all creates a cacaphony of music and effects that often left us wondering who did what and what did it do.

It seems like fun, and tomorrow I plan to really sink my teeth into it and see what I can figure out. It's always good to have a new game to play with when you're snowed in, and even though the truck with the iceberg lettuce was unable to reach Wal-Mart, at least the truck with Super Smash Brothers Brawl did. I'll do a full report later.