Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Fantasy?

The question about why the MMO genre has been gravitating towards (inundated by?) fantasy has been a featured question on a number of blogs. I hadn’t really touched on the subject before. Richard Bartle over at Terranova posed the question and got a number of interesting posts in response.

A number of posters point to Tolkien and tales kids grew up with. They also mention how risk-averse most companies are towards anything new – fantasy works, why change it? While a lot of their observations are right on the money, imho, I think there’s more going on than just a cynical corporate thing.

One of the big draws about fantasy is the use of magic verses technology. Magic (fantasy) works just because it works. Technology (sci-fi) works because the Morlocks make it work and everyone hates Morlocks. With fantasy, you can believe that magic is possible because of the universe or a trinket or just because it’s a somewhat natural gift. Sci fi’s technology is different in that someone had to build it. If it can be built it can be destroyed. Technology can be taken away. Technology is also hard to figure out – something with which most people have real-life experience. If you can’t figure out how to stop the clock on your DVD player from flashing, how can you expect to figure out how to operate the P-Flux Space Discombobulator to keep the Argonian Empire from vaporizing the Duckoplatian fleet?

Technology is less special. Shea in the Sword of Shannara is the only one that can wield the sword. Frodo in the Lord of the Rings is the only one that can be trusted to bring the Ring to the mountain. Ripley in Aliens, however, can grab any weapon from any space marine and, after the brief training montage, can blast alien scum with it.

The difference between fantasy and sci-fi may also have to do with the past. The past is often viewed as a time of simplicity and innocence whereas the future (as viewed from the present) is often dark and uncertain. To paraphrase Jose Chung at the end of Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense: the new centuries will be like the old – thousands of years of the same old crap. Wars and empires and deaths and more wars.

The question about ‘why fantasy’ is a good one and I think beyond just the coding of swords verses laser guns or corporate cowardice, the preference for fantasy may well be cultural or psychological. The Terranova comments are interesting food for thought.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

LotRO Book 12

Book 12 is coming this coming week! Yay! If past updates are any indication, the latest Book update should provide a lot of new content at no cost to the players (except download time and possibly a few bugs).

Game spot has an interesting review of the new content and there is a post on Turbine's LotRO site as well.

The changes most interesting to me are those for clothing and housing. As a Hobbit Burglar, I have always felt a tad out-of-sorts wearing smaller versions of the armor and weapons that the big folk wear. Now I'll be able to customize his appearance to make him look more like a resident of Middle-earth and less like a subdued version of something you'd see in WoW. Housing should be neat also since I'm tired of looking at the same old furniture. Other interesting stuff is the great Angmar revamp (fewer boars! Woo!) and the addition to the Book questline.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Pieces of my mind

It’s been a while since I’ve posted so for that I apologize. Been pretty hectic at work and basically coming home meant crashing or playing LotRO instead of writing. So here’s something a I wrote a little while ago.

Complete at Fifty?
A couple of weeks ago in LotRO, I wrapped up my level forty-five class quest by handing in a crap-ton of materials to my quest contact. As a result I got the epic Burglar trait called “Stick and Move” which grants me access to my critical skill chains not only when I crit but also when I evade an attack. Basically, that all spells more dps since I evade quite a lot.

With my traits set near max for my level and my final Burglar legendary trait slotted, I’ve been feeling more and more like that character is “done.” My concern is basically what happened to me in WoW when I completed getting most of an armor set or maxed in some way: will I continue to play this character past the point of completion?

In WoW when the cap was sixty, I got my warrior to the cap and basically stopped playing him. Raiding didn’t appeal to me at the time, so level sixty equaled done in my book. Besides raiding, there was PvP, which I did for a while, but WoW PvP isn’t all that interesting to me (besides Alterac Valley … at least in the good old days where it felt like an epic battle). My Paladin met a similar fate, though I did play him longer and did some raiding as well. Once he had a good set of armor and the raiding guild I was in fell apart due to drama, I stopped playing him.

Interestingly enough, I’m not getting the same feeling at max level in LotRO. I’m not sure if it’s the tempo of the game or the sheer volume of areas and quest lines present, but for the time-being I am finding plenty to continue working on. I still have places I like to explore. Even places I’ve been before are so beautifully rendered, it’s more like visiting an art museum again rather than seeing the same old crap. I have a few traits to work on still and a couple of Rift Armor pieces I’d like, but neither one is a concern at this point. I can pretty much crush any even-level mobs without too much hassle.

The Book quests are a constant source of amusement. Though I’ve completed all of them thus far, there’s a big push in my kinship about getting up through Book Eleven in preparation for the upcoming Book Twelve so I’ve been helping different groups of folks with those. We ran book 5.8 the other night which was a lot of fun. Some of the group members had tried before in PUG groups and hadn’t gotten the boss at the end down so it was great seeing their reaction in fellowship chat when he finally keeled over. It’s worth noting too that the Book quests get a lot more interesting and dramatic as you get higher in the chain. I highly recommend them if you haven’t done them.

I’ve also been involved in some interesting and fun things with the kinship besides the standard gaming stuff. We have regular RP events which are fun. A couple of us started a lowbie group in LotRO which plays once-a-week. We’re all Hobbits helping out in Thorin’s Hall where we haven’t quested before. I also put together an all-burglar run in Goblin Town the other night. We snuck around most things, fought when we had to and in the end took down both the Goblin King and the Troll boss along with his handler. The amazing thing is: there were only three of us in the group. Conjunctions, crowd control and debuffs played a huge part in our success. I’m looking forward to putting together another one of these, perhaps in Carn Dum or Ungaruth with more burglars.

Overall, I’m still happy with LotRO and still finding a lot of neat stuff to do in spite of having a “completed” character.

In Other News:
In other news, I’m still in WoW on the weekends playing in a “noob club” there. In spite of the coming weekend being the Superbowl we’ll still be on and smushing things. We play in the morning so if we wrap up around the normal time, I’m sure most of the Superbowl stuff won’t have started yet. I’m not really invested in the game at all. The Steelers and Redskins aren’t in it so I don’t really care who wins. I’m just hoping it’s a good game.

I’m also beginning work on a story of my own. I’ve been reading fantasy books (George RR Martin, Tolkien, JK Rowlings, amongst others) for a while now (like since I was 12). I figured, what the heck, may as well give it a shot. I have written a number of snippets, some of which have merit, but am mostly working on the world-building part for now.