Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan, DA2, Rift

Firstly, I'd like to express my condolences to the Japanese people. Secondly, I'd like to put some things straight. There are three calamities right now in Japan: Tsunami, earthquake, nuclear meltdowns. In that order.

It is a bit sad the western media, especially the German one, dramatizes the nuclear meltdowns. The power plants were built to withstand an earthquake of strength 8.0. That was a political decision about five decades ago! The quake hit 9.0 and it is to be expected that the plants experience major problems in that case. It is quite possible to build nuclear power plants that withstand 9.0.
In any case, the meltdown of such a plant is not at all comparable with Tschernobyl. Radioactive emissions at the site are gone after a few 100 meters and that is only the gamma emissions. The more dangerous alpha and beta emissions travel a maximum of a few meters!

The only really big problem is radioactive particles that get carried away with the wind. They find their way into peoples' bodies by breathing and eating. They also sediment on the skin. At this distance to your body-cells they can become really dangerous!
But as long as there is no super-hot fire, the worst that can happen is some hydrogen explosion. At Tschernobyl we had a graphite fire that burned for a very long time and is - well - hotter than your usual fire. This is impossible at the Japanese plants, because they don't use a thing like graphite. The biggest problem caused by the nuclear plants is the power outage right now. The second biggest is that they will be really hard to 'repair'.
But the most severe problem is still the Tsunami.

Dragon Age 2:
Yeah, I know... This is a MMORPG blog, but I won't make three posts today. So it has to be all in one.
The first thing that crossed my mind after playing Dragon Age 2 for several hours on Sunday was: "This is not a videogame, but a gamevideo."

Honestly, what did Bioware think? The cut scenes are nice, very artistic. I don't think that they fit, but kudos for the creativity and the courage. I didn't play long enough to really judge the story. Having said that, so far it feels rather bad; even badly told!

When I started DA2, I went to gameplay options and chose 'hard', as I always do. However, already the very first escape scene is almost impossible at hard. Now, you will probably set out to tell me to not play at hard, unless I mean it, but here's a bigger problem at the roots.
The process of micro-managing your party was massively annoying! The whole movement/camera feels un-polished! The combat seems like on steroids! Much too fast; and your spells have a cooldown of 20s or 30s! 90% of the time I have to pause and order my group around because the AI is not especially good at reacting fast to anything!

End result being: This game is not made for tactics! The whole gameplay stops being fun if you try to pause the game repeatedly. Now, this already was a problem with DA1, but there it was still ok.

Everything in DA2 says: Console! And so I succumbed, changed the difficulty to 'casual', pretended to watch my TV-screen while laying flat on the sofa, and had my party take care of the enemies with super speed, without breaks - and without much help from me. Fun? No. Could I please see the next cut scene? Damn, a dialogue! And my guy constantly says things I didn't tell him to say! Not that it matters. The dialogue partner doesn't really seem to care.
I might finish DA2 eventually, but it will be on casual and just for the story. Stay away from DA2, unless you're a die-hard fan of the series!

Finally, Rift. I like Rift. Not as an MMORPG, but as a single player game with some multiplayer action. I leveled several mages and clerics on all sides during the weekend, trying to make up my mind about what character on what side on what server I want.

Most 'classes' feel polished and finished. The story is nice and the atmosphere stunning. A very big part has the music here. The moment you come back 20 years later as a Guardian has phenomenal music! Also, the stories of Guardians, as well as of the Defiants are interesting and rather well told for a MMORPG. The whole setting is innovative, and interesting. You need to force yourself to read most of the text, however.

Sunday evening I finally ended up with a Guardian Fire Mage on a PvP-RP server. And then it happened: I was level 10 and the Lord of Fire descended through the Rifts to overtake the forest! We had a huge raid going on; easily some 80 players or more. I was churning out fireballs, chain-closing rifts and reaping rewards out of thin air. Unfortunately, my level was too low. The enemies were lvl 15-18, so I missed with 90% of my spells. The rest was 75% resisted. OH MY GOD!

I know I asked that question before, but do we really need this character power progression (CPP) and enemies that are invulnerable, due to level? - In a game like Rift?

Anyway, didn't I say that I enjoy Rift not as an MMORPG? Now, this truly was massive multiplayer! And later, when I am alone I can do a little CPP, which is to some degree RP. (Yeah, I know, some people would kill me on sight for that statement). It's just that there is a disconnect between these two games, somehow.

Make no mistake; I think that Rift has moved the genre forward. They innovated with character 'classes' and they innovated with world PvE. Both experiments are a success, in my opinion. Not groundbreaking, but a success. The game works this way, it is fun to play. I won't renew my WoW sub anytime soon.

However, ask yourself this question:
How much do you care about your numbers? Because, I don't; they are too small and too many to watch them fly by. And if you don't care about your numbers, you don't need CPP - at least no exponential CPP! After all, the enemies gain HP exponentially, too, and your relative power stays the same. It's just that all opponents, that are not within your level range, either feel like a joke or are invincible! What's the good in that?
How much fun could a game like Rift be, if the world truly felt like one? If the CPP worked by gaining skills alone, not by doing exponentially more damage with your existing skills?

Have my gear scale my power up very slowly - I'd still be happy to find new gear! And within a world that is not inhabited with enemies that scale with my gear, it might even feel like meaning something to have good gear during the 'learn all your skills'-phase. (***)

My hypothesis: Exponential character power progression (CPP) is holding Rift back! It keeps me from playing with friends, it keeps me from immersing myself into the world, it keeps me from enjoying the world-PvE events called rifts! Gaining skills is enough! Having these skills become exponentially more powerful is harmful for the game!

From a game design point of view, the advantage of equipping ever better items, gaining new skill ranks and gaining attributes when gaining a level is overshadowed by its many, many disadvantages. Especially so, because the "illusion of power progression" that is provided, does not trick the main audience of Rift: former WoW players.

(***) Alternatively, make items decay and thus create a meaningful economy.


  1. "I like Rift. Not as an MMORPG, but as a single player game with some multiplayer action."

    I agree wholeheartedly. It's exactly how i am playing Rift at the moment and it succeeds perfectly at that. although I solo mostly, the world feels a lot more alive to me than it has felt in WoW for years. Rift isn't revolutionary, but it's a step forward.

    There are still things that I'd like to see changed in future MMOs though and I've written about it in my article today. maybe GW2 will be my answer.

  2. I think the sad thing is that western media probably focuses that much on the power plant issue (swedish media does too) because it is the only thing that might in fact affect them if things go really wrong. Tsunami and earthquake is over there, radioactive downfall might come this way! Oh no!

  3. Radiation sounds scary. Of course it is scary, but it sounds worse, what with being invisible and glowing green and somehow, terrorists.

    Part of the problem is that people don't know that nuclear reactors come in a lot of different types and designs. Chernobyl was an accident waiting to happen. They even knew it, though they had identified a totally different huge problem before the disaster (comforting!). So people don't know that some reactors are a lot safer than others.

    Can we really expect a for-profit media to pass on over-hyping the aspects of the story that scare us, drawing in attention and advertisers?

  4. On CPP, how cool would it be if every zone had the same level of difficulty .. on Day One the mass of new players can spread out so you don't have to suffer the usual zerg-fest-kill-stealing-lag-storm every MMO has suffered.