Neverwinter: First Impressions

First Impressions

If Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online had a baby, that baby would be Neverwinter…

And when I say “baby,” I mean exactly that.

As in, it seems to be the much more simplistic version of either game named above.

The default UI is remarkably reminiscent of LOTRO with its text font and tiny size with elaborate button graphics on the skills you can barely make out at the default size.

nw_miniui

I mean… really? Can’t see nuthing.

It joins LOTRO as being the second game where I felt the need to bring up the UI beyond 100% and magnify it to like 1.3x.

nw_largerui

I may have overcompensated a little, but at least I can see some of the icons now.

(Somewhere out there, the dev that spent their time coloring in the icon graphics and backgrounds is celebrating.)

Quest gameplay-wise, it feels like a version of DDO where you talk to NPCs, get quests, then run to ye olde dungeon or adventure instance where you then get your own personal dungeon crawl.

nw_sewercrawl

Or sewer crawl.

The good news is that these personal instances are great on FPS.

Even on my ailing computer, I can hit 40-60FPS in these places.

The bad news is that I managed to pick the day some new update dropped to try the game, so the central city of Protector’s Enclave – where the game first drops you right after completing the tutorial (kinda neat in that you don’t have to go through numerous starter zones to get there) – was an utter rubberbanding lagfest of epic proportions.

I'm sure it's a nice city... if the textures loaded in, and if I could actually move...
I’m sure it’s a nice city… if the textures loaded in, and if I could actually move…

Framerates alternated between 9-1o FPS if I was lucky, and this is probably the first MMO I’ve encountered whose FPS indicator bothered to show FPS below 1 in decimal points. (Yeah, 0.3FPS, such awesome!)

One pretty neat thing that Neverwinter has is the ability to adjust graphics card-dependent and CPU-dependent graphics separately.

Landmark’s FPS indicator taught me that my CPU tended to be the weaker of my pair, so I cranked it down to near minimal, giving up view and draw distance, and was able to get my GPU settings  up to a nice looking medium. This at least gives broader options for people to adjust what they can or can’t give up for smoother gameplay. (I generally don’t need shadows or a gazillion physics particles flying around just to make things look ‘better’ and more busy, for example.)

Tradespam was running rampant in the big city, being spammed faster than I could move, along with cryptic LFGs of strange abbreviations for content I assume was for super max leveled elder game players.

Welcome to gibberish edition.
Welcome to gibberish edition. Let’s see: goldseller spam, high-end microtransaction trades and holy trinity/need correct class and gear for group problems of some sort or other…

One generally ignores those and lets them scroll by as stuff I won’t understand as a newbie vacationer anyway, but everyone’s personal mileage for tolerating those is different.

Along with the ubiquitous lockboxes, whose drop rate is fairly insane.

It's all rainbow colors, it must be neat stuff, I guess!
It’s all rainbow colors and much blue and purple, it must be neat stuff, I guess!

Fortunately, I have no idea what any of those words mean, so it’s eminently ignorable for my vacationing purposes.

(I did manage to sell off 8 of them on the auction house, so -someone- out there is buying them…)

Others may find it more difficult to ignore, similar to how I personally have trouble ignoring the existence of raids in traditional MMOs being heralded as the pinnacle of existence and all the good gear being available only there.

The difference to me is that I’m paying $15 a month in those games, same as everyone, and would rather not have my preferred playstyles treated like second class citizens.

Here, I’m paying a big fat $0, so little inconveniences are to be expected. (The trick is to have the inconveniences not be game-breaking and encouraging quitting out of frustration over maybe sometime converting into a paying customer.)

I guess it may boil down to essentially a difference of philosophy. Traditional sub-based raid games say, “We start at an egalitarian playing field of $15/month, and it’s what you choose to do with your time that determines how far up you go. Take the game rules for what they are and put up with any inconveniences and annoyances to get there, no two ways around this.”

Free to play games say, “You can come try out our game with no obligations whatsoever, though you may have to put up with some inconveniences and annoyances along the way.”

Bad ones continue, “If you want to get rid of all the nuisances and get far up in the elder game, you’re going to have to spend X sum of money, no two ways around this.” Where X is a substantially larger sum than $15/month.

Good ones say, “You can do it with money, or you can do it with time, up to you, the choice is yours.” And usually the average X is ballparked around $15/month.

(I’d talk about buy to play too, but that usually just means “Kindly pay us the sum of a normal single-player game up front for the work we’ve already put in, and you can enjoy the basic game more or less feature complete.”)

I tend to prefer “the choice is yours” games over the “no two ways around this” games.

Back to Neverwinter and the baby analogy.

Said baby appeared to have been stolen from its crib by Cryptic Studios, who really wanted a kid of their own and tried to do nice things for it, but seemed generally confused about bringing up a child, and who eventually threw up their hands and gave it to foster parents Perfect World International, who are at least giving food to the kid and keeping it alive, but only insofar as it can work for them in their sweatshop.

The hand of Cryptic Studios can be seen in three things: the character creator, the combat system and the foundry system.

Character Creation

nw_charactercreator

While not as expansive as City of Heroes, the character creator affords a very decent range of options while still keeping to an immersive thematic feeling that keeps half-orcs looking different in skin tone and bulk from elves, and so on.

Hair, faces, eyes, scarring and tattoos, numerous sliders for tweaking face and body shapes, Neverwinter’s got it.

There’s even a flavor option to choose your place of origin, a la LOTRO’s characters hailing from various regions, and to take your pick from a number of Forgotten Realms deities to follow. Plus an optional biography space to add your character’s bio that will be visible to other players, similar to City of Heroes.

It did really help to bring out the lore aspect, aided by my personal familiarity and love for the Forgotten Realms setting (if a generation or two before the stupid Spellplague – repeated apocalypses conveniently timed to coincide with new editions get old fast) and utilized that prior IP knowledge to garner a bit of quick buy-in with the game.

Quest writing-wise, it also reminds me of City of Heroes. Decent enough, very wordy, recreating some of that tabletop or singleplayer RPG feeling in talking to NPCs and getting a long story about why you need to go here and there, kill ten kobolds, pick up ten crates or play through one instance or another.

A considerable amount of the text appears to be voiced, for the main storyline anyway, which adds an interesting touch – though I must admit to rather rapidly running out of patience hearing a voice read the text to me and quickly clicking through to continue.

Combat

The combat system feels very simplistic.

Even more basic than City of Heroes started with, if that can be believed, as if they ran out of game designers that could manage spreadsheets… or were maybe setting themselves up for a console MMO.

Left click for basic quick attack, right click for harder hitting drawn out attack, maybe a handful of extra skills more to be earned slowly as you go up in levels. Six classes or so. with some of the most awkward sounding names I’ve ever heard – Control Wizard, Great Weapon Fighter, Hunter Ranger and three others I barely recall, a rogue, a tank and a cleric type, I think.

It’s like they had to specify, oh no no, you can’t actually play a full out wizard… you only get a wizard stuck in the role of cc.

Or guess what, not only can you pay an extortionate amount to become Drizzt Do’Urden, ride a giant spider and have a cool panther, you get to be a ranger and a hunter all rolled into one! Because WoW hunter is cool. LOTRO and Forgotten Realms Ranger is cooler. And naturally Neverwinter HUNTER RANGER must be the coolest!

(Struggling not to die from laughing here…)

Having just come from games like Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar, the active dodging they tried to implement in Neverwinter feels decidedly sluggish in comparison.

It’s not as responsive as either game, for one. You have to hold down shift+direction a lot longer to maybe dash somewhere, if your keypress registered at all.

There didn’t seem to be any way to quickly move out of range of regular melee attacks, nor was circle strafing a very good strategy to avoid getting it, because your attack animations rooted you in place for a couple seconds (an old City of Heroes thing that seemed to be have been carried over in the engine.)

Dashing or dodging out of the way seemed to be only mostly useful for the super slow and very obviously telegraphed attacks – either big red AoE circles or large bulky giant types moving a big club in freeze frame slow motion in an attempt to hit you.

While this seemed rather retardedly obvious to avoid, I learned why they couldn’t make the animations any faster… because the dashing doesn’t respond any quicker than that.

It might be latency at work again, but I had a 5o-75% chance of getting out of the way in time of any of these very blatantly obvious telegraphs – either because the dash key wasn’t responding the instant I pressed it, or because I was locked in a basic attack animation (well, I have to try and do -some- damage to it, right?)

Neverwinter uses an always on mouselook style, which I suppose is a change from having to hold down the right mouse button all the time, and targeting consists of moving your reticle over the mob you want to hit.

The process of doing damage mostly felt like one button click spam, with some extra odd attacks on cooldown later as you gain levels and skills.

Damage mitigation as a Great Weapon Fighter mostly appeared to consist of kill things fast, try not to soak too much damage and quaff healing potions when necessary. There are presumably some gear stats to help and a blocking mechanism for the tankier Guardian Fighter (was that the name?) and Cleric people probably can stand in as mobile free healing potions for your health bar (hey, some weirdoes like that kind of ‘support’ role.)

It did raise some questions in my mind of how necessary or costly it would be to buy healing potions later on in levels if I didn’t own a cleric in my back pocket, but for now, difficult fights do seem to drop them, so it ended up more or less evening out. Use one, kill things, get another.

The overall feel is still very slow, and rather turn-based, in comparison to GW2 or Wildstar. If either of those MMOs feel too fast, confusing and chaotic, Neverwinter may be the more sedately paced combat you’re looking for.

May. Because it’s still really awfully simplistic.

And seemingly based a lot on vertically progressing gear stats. My basic broadsword damage jumped from 32 to 86, for example, moving from one piece of quest reward to another.

Which personally, doesn’t bode very well for its PvP being on any semblance of an even playing field.

I’ve heard rumors that Neverwinter’s PvP is pretty pay-to-win, so I’ve not even bothered trying that part of the game yet. That might be a breaking point for anyone who enjoys PvP and is thinking about the long term prospects of Neverwinter, but I’ve never been that kind of competitive sort and it doesn’t bother me from enjoying the rest of the game if it’s segregated off in some private arenas.

Questing – Dev and Player Created

The foundry system looks promising, and seems to be Neverwinter’s saving grace.

For a free game, the design respects immersion a lot, even if overall player behavior doesn’t.

Starting players are led in an extended tutorial via a whole sequence of quests given story flavoring. Here, after a sequence of your main story quests chasing some miscreants, you’ve found some intriguing treasure with writing on it that looks culturally interesting to a kobold. Go talk to the kobold in the main city who also happens to be an auctioneer and see if he’ll take it off your hands. (Voila, we find the Auction House – even if we haven’t already figured it out via the UI buttons on top.)

The auctioneer doesn’t want it, but recommends you take the curio to a lady who deals in wondrous goods and you’re shown yet another Bazaar / shop / trading thing. Maybe it was the gem store. I sorta blanked it out because trying to survive in the main city at 3 FPS and lower means you’re sitting in the graphics options menu tweaking that far more than paying attention to any other bit of UI popping up and you just press whatever keys necessary to get the quest done, your reward collected and your next quest picked up that preferably ain’t in that lag ridden city.

I haven’t tried a Foundry quest yet, but they introduce it in a very similar fashion. Some NPCs that are part of the world will actually point out Foundry quests that occur near the area you are in. Talking to them brings up that portion of the UI, so you get just that subset of foundry quests to choose from.

Innovations

Quest-wise, I’m also rather impressed by how smartly and smoothly the quest tracker shifts quests up and down based on the NPCs and regions you’re closest to, with optional glowy sparks that lead you directly to where you’re supposed to go. This is something that I’ve seen from a WoW add-on, but never by default in any MMO before Neverwinter.

I do like the whole guided beginner experience they’ve set up for Neverwinter.

Similar to Runes of Magic, you get a gift box that you open at certain levels for free stuff.

With every level, your UI will tell you just what else is new and has changed, so that you can go and upgrade the thing or check out this new feature.

Even the auction house NPC will recommend some gear for you (though I’m sure veterans will laugh at it for being inaccurate or whatever, but newbies are content with basic handholding, thanks) and this is pretty much the first time I’ve seen an auction house actually tell you that you can get the gear via doing a quest instead.

Nope, I didn't know!
Nope, I didn’t know! I’ll get around to it after this sequence of quests, I guess!

Everything that threatens to be overwhelming when you take it all in at once, is staggered and parceled out slowly so that you can take in each feature on its own. The quests introduced me to Skirmishes – some kind of quick cooperative group experience fighting off waves of enemies, PvP – which I chickened out of trying, and presumably will get around to Dungeons at some point.

Crafting, or Neverwinter Professions, amuse me to no end.

They’re different from most bog-standard MMOs, for one, and a bit more like SWTOR in style, if I’m not mistaken. Instead of gathering all the materials, clicking a button and  stand around waiting for a progress bar, they take a page from the mobile or facebook game genre in terms of more long-term time management.

You set up some task in queue, walk away while the timer ticks down, and come back after 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours, a day, or whatever, to collect your goodies and start the next task. At least you can be playing the game or offline while it does its thing.

Playerbase

Well, the good news is that the game looks exceedingly busy. And lively.

That’s the beauty of a free to play game. The barrier for entry is notoriously low, so folks jump in and begin any time, and there’s that constant influx milling around with the veterans.

However, the barrier for entry IS notoriously low, so you have bots, AFK accounts of various sorts taking up room in queues, players who may as well be bots for all the interaction they do, people speaking assorted languages in a Tower of Babel style chat that gives me new sympathy for what the GW2 EU servers had to deal with under megaserver rule, tradespam worthy of GW1 Spamadan and so on, mixing in with people looking for others who might actually chat intelligibly in English and join groups, amidst the rampant stubborn soloist types (guiilty!)

If you’re looking to play Neverwinter as an MMO in a social setting, you’re in for sifting through a bit of crud to find some treasure. Though the treasure does seem to be out there – there were some comprehensible guild messages, and a few veterans answering newbie questions and seemingly willing to help out – probably because it’s so rare to find like-minded similar-playstyle players.

Conclusions

Will I keep playing it?

Well, I might.

For the moment, it’s free. There’s a lot of new systems I’m curious about, which always draws me like a magnet, and I really like the newbie guidance system so far.

The big minus to Neverwinter is its ridiculously boring combat. Click click click swing sword click swing again, oh the big attack reservoir has filled up, hit big attack button to do lots of damage, click click keep swinging.

Alternate with dodging forward and backward through mobs as needed for telegraphs, and seeing how many swings you can get in before the AI figures out it needs to turn around.

The story wrapper is a decent plus.

If you’re just looking for an hour or two to wind down after work, with no necessity to turn brain on too much, getting a few quests done in Neverwinter ain’t bad in terms of mild entertainment experience.

Long term-wise, I dunno. It looks like it’s setting itself up to be a vertically progressing, massively grindy token buy game for good gear, with the option of spending real money to speed one’s way through the grind. I might be wrong, but that’s my lowbie perspective looking upwards at the moment.

Worth playing up until the point it gets tedious or demands cash, I suppose, which is a far sight more than you can say for other games that demand regular payments of money up front for you to eventually learn the same way down the road that the long term elder game isn’t for you.

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Landmark: What’s the Point?

I have been following certain threads with interesting titles in the Landmark forums (“Ummm.. so what’s the point of this game?“,  “Progression is frustrating and not very fun“, “Very Unrewarding” ) in the search for various perspectives, while pondering the point of Landmark.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.

I play GW2, a game of lateral progression, and we encounter a great many people who find it difficult to understand the point of GW2, especially after being trained by WoW or other traditional MMOs.

I willingly played A Tale in the Desert, a literal crafting sandbox of -significant- grind which had progression on a mandatory to optional spectrum via a levels unlocking skills system. It appealed to a very niche audience only because other folk couldn’t figure out what to do with themselves in a game with no combat, and which took forever to walk anywhere.

I fully expect there to be a subset of people who will walk into a creative building game, be it Landmark or Minecraft, and go, um… where’s the game? What’s the point? What do I do?!

Some of them will get it if it’s explained to them. A few of them might try it and like it. Still many others will fade away from the game, having decided it’s just not their cup of tea.

I understand that Landmark is more of a “software toy” – if anyone is ancient enough to remember Will Wright and the original Sim family of games and the term as used then. You played with the software as it was, tinkered with whatever parameters you wanted, created your own goals and “what ifs” and then when you were done, you put it down and forgot about it until you got the urge to mess with it again.

Thing is, putting it down and forgetting about it is not a concept that sits very well with MMOs and the desire of its developers to be paid (though other free to play games like League of Legends, TF2 and Dota 2 seem to be doing just fine with a broad base of folks who do that, perhaps since they have a very hardcore cohort who play ’em daily and pay enough to keep development going.)

And that sort of unsettles me and makes me want to lay a finger on what specifically makes me feel that way.

I think I am less worrying about what the exact point of Landmark is (since it can be many things to different people – a place to build, socialize, craft, gather, roleplay, tell a story, design for other players or for future Everquest Next, be creative, indulge in artistic expression, make a virtual home, play with a virtual dollhouse, have an adventure, explore, learn, etc.)…

…but more trying to answer a burning question with incomplete information and stuff that is yet unknown, undecided and/or undetermined.

And that question is: Should I be investing my time or money into this game?

Of course, that answer is different for different people.

Some people have even willingly spent $100 on its Alpha stage. They were happy to pay for the privilege of being involved in the game’s development from the ground up, have a voice (such as it is) in where the game is going, to playtest with unpolished tools and systems and be the first guinea pigs (or *ahem* first to get to play around with the game or have a headstart), to create and design and maybe, just maybe, have it included in Everquest Next. They’re dedicated fans of the franchise and the studio.

I mean, if you asked me if I would do the same for ArenaNet and Guild Wars, I’d -seriously- give it some thought. (Though the initial payment would put me off.)

But here’s the thing, I’m not them. And since this is my blog, we’ll dig into my perspective today while I try to get it sorted out in my own head.

I didn’t pay for Alpha. I didn’t pay for Beta. What kind of game would I pay or not pay for?

WoW’s design is primarily a raid endgame centred around vertical progression of gear. Eve Online encourages very dubious player behavior and morality in its design. For me, the answer to both is no. Because I don’t want to support games whose design I’m not in favor of.

Other people play them, and pay for them, and keep both games going just fine. To each their own.

I paid and played games like City of Heroes, Guild Wars 1 & 2, A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, but not games like Wurm Online or Darkfall or Fallen Earth.

I generally support games that foster friendly and cooperative groups and social experiences in their design, but also give leeway to solo at one’s choosing. I’m drawn like a moth flies toward light to games that show off innovative design and interesting novel systems to play with and learn, but I’m turned off by games that have room for nonconsensual PvP, take forever to progress or get anywhere (aka too much time grind) or are sluggish and buggy.

My fascination for grokking systems may see me knowingly put up with some annoying game design choices. at least for a short while.

Mob Wars: La Cosa Nostra is one example. I played it religiously for a month, logging in every day, doing all the stuff, incrementing numerically for the sake of incrementing numerically, but one day I just decided to skip a day. It stretched to two. Three. Then I didn’t bother logging in anymore. The addiction/compulsion was gone. Gimmick design works for a while, and then it loses its hold, especially when you break the habitual pattern formed and find other more prioritized things to do.

I put up with quite a bit of crap in A Tale in the Desert. The endless running across large tracts of land, for one. I avoided doing that as much as possible, and credit to the game, it wasn’t excessively forced. Mostly because the multiple systems and minigames in ATITD just kept blowing my mind. Each required days to learn and probably months or more to master. Observing the social interactions and conflict between cooperation and competition was so fascinating that I was willing to put up with a few not-so-comfortable things, since there was nowhere else to get the same experience in more convenient form. And there were always many lateral progression options and ways to get regular feelings of accomplishing something too.

As for Landmark, well, I can’t quite get a proper grip on what kind of a game it is and where it intends to be going, leaving the existing Closed Beta experience sitting smack dab in the middle of the Play-Don’t Play spectrum.

You see, for MMOs, I want to know that the game is still going to be around for a bit and popular enough to have some people playing it, for me to want to invest time, money and energy into playing it. How is Landmark going to work, exactly?

I’ve kind of read the Blueprint. But it still leaves me with questions as to what exactly the game is going to entail.

Harsh death penalty and PvP are big twitching red flags for me, for example. Waste too much of my time, threaten me with resource loss, and your game goes right into the Eve Online pile. It may be a great simulationist sandbox in the vein of all those others, but Trammel killed Ultima Online for a reason. If you can still find your niche to play and pay, all power to you. I’ll just not be there.

(The Everquest brand is not particularly promising on this front. Time-wasters and harsh penalties aplenty. And Landmark is already actively showing signs of time-wasting.)

How is the payment model of the game going to work? What kind of economy is going to drive this game? What types of playstyles and gameplay niches are we expecting to see?

The Bartle model may not be the most ideal one to use, for this sort of game. This is pretty much unexplored territory for triple A MMOs – it’s more the purview of games (*ahem* “virtual worlds”) like Second Life and Neverwinter Nights (the old one, with the Aurora toolset that players created content with) and maybe multiplayer Minecraft.

Here’s my best guess on what playstyles we might see in Landmark:

  • Adventurer – resource collectors, explorers, seeking thrills, adventure, exciting experiences
  • Builders/Designers – artist builders, artisan builders, home builders
  • Roleplayers/Storytellers – using the world to create and tell stories of their own choosing
  • Crafter?

I am a so-called Adventurer. In truth, I’m probably a harvester-gatherer. I collect resources and enable the larger game to function. I may have to put up with some grindy aspects via number accumulation and vertical progression tiers. I ought to be able to walk in and play for free in Landmark because I pay in time. (Caveat: I am not SOE, I do not come up with their payment models.) I exist as content for the other more dedicated players because I bulk up the game with more player population to socialize with, to admire their constructions and perhaps run their scripted dungeons/adventures/experience the stories they want to tell (assuming those systems come in.)

My payoffs? I should be able to sell or trade resources to the other players who need them… but in exchange for… what? I need an in-game marketplace or auction house or trading exchange. Perhaps I can trade for some amount of currency or Station Cash that enables me to keep a small-sized claim and cross over to the other playstyles. I should be getting in return the thrill of adventure, the fun of exploration, some sense of accomplishment, the excitement and novelty of seeing what’s over the next hill and around the next corner, etc.

Builders are a pretty broad category, since this is, after all, a building game:

I am an artist builder. I want to make large towering works of art out of voxels. I need large-sized or multiple claims. I need lots of resources. I have the option of buying templates from the Player Studio like windows, railings, decorations and more to copy-paste stamp them into larger pieces. My payoffs? I get to express myself artistically and show off works of great beauty. I develop a name and reputation for myself.  I perhaps contribute to parts of scenery in Everquest Next (assuming that’s a plus in your perspective, having paid $$ for the privilege.)

Seabiscuit's Blackheart Castle is an example. (Image taken from screenshot on forums thread linked.)
Seabiscuit’s Blackheart Castle is an example. (Image taken from screenshot on forums thread linked above.)

Big question is: Am I going to have to pay real life money out the nose for these things? If so, why should I be choosing this game to build in? Minecraft is looming as the equivalent of WoW in the creative building genre, and it’s buy to play. More such games are on the way as competitors.

I am an artisan builder, I make works of art that can serve as templates to be used in larger pieces. Besides all the regular perks of the artist builder – name and rep, EQN contribution, creative expression, etc., my payoff is potentially selling them in the Player Studio (assuming you live in the correct country for it), or the satisfaction of giving them freely away to others to see them used in larger works of art.

Image from forum poster Gizeh - Alpha Thread on Template Swap meets.
Image from forum poster Gizeh – Alpha Thread on Template Swap meets.

(There can be, of course, plenty of overlap between artisan and artist builder playstyles in the same person. Or the other playstyles, for that matter. The more playstyles one enjoys, the closer match Landmark is going to be for one – though I don’t know how much more money you’re going to end up paying. But we’re separating them here for clarity.)

homebuilder

I am a home builder. I have a vision of something I want to build – likely a house or a castle or something cool for me to stay in. I likely value environmental immersion of some kind. I may not be that great artistically. I might be able to supplement my not-so-great artistic skills with a few choice templates bought off the Player Studio, or trading in-game resources with artisans and artists, or even getting them free off social interaction (providing value by being there as a player.) I will probably be willing to foot a small upkeep for a small to medium claim, though having the option to pay in in-game resources might be better for a subset of these players.

What happens though when I am “done?” When I have created the house I want? What do I do next? Stop playing? Move to another playstyle, assuming I can find one that matches?

I am a roleplayer/storyteller. I tell stories and make them up using the game’s voxels and props. I interact with other players in some fashion, be it via chat or posting on the forums. (See a great example in progress here with a builder/immersive roleplayer combined in one person, creating some very natural constructions to tell a story in time.) My payoff is the stories I create and the people that see/view/experience them.

Eventually, assuming scripting and NPCs make it into Landmark, we’ll have crossover designer/builder/storytellers that will be similar to GameMasters of tabletop roleplaying games, designing adventures for others to experience – probably similar to how existing player-created content in other MMOs like Neverwinter Foundry or adventure mods in Minecraft work.

Crafting is the part that still puzzles me at this point. It seems to exist for the sake of existing and time-wasting. Here’s a bunch of technology trees. Go get the required number of resources and then come back and click a button to make it. You need to do it to unlock other things, like the tools you want for other playstyles.

Maybe, just maybe, one might have a dedicated crafter niche who pretty much goes out to collect resources and bring them back to craft, and then trades the finished, desirable products to others? Like those elusive Legendary picks and axes?

I dunno though. There is one danger of trying to add such niches though, taking lessons from A Tale in the Desert, there is the possibility that time-plentiful veterans will learn how to do it all, and do it much more quickly than newbies. This leaves newbies with nothing of value to offer veteran players.

How does the food chain function here?

Are there going to be enough players willing to pay for convenience and shortcuts to make up for playstyles that they don’t want to crossover to?

Are the rich folks on the very top willing to pay lots of money for what? Vanity? Prestige?

On one hand, lots of cosmetic options in other games say yes, there might be sufficient people willing to pay for pretty dresses. On the other hand, Glitch did die from lack of participation in the clothing shop and insufficient thought about a viable payment model…

I guess what I’m wondering at this point is… what’s the Landmark demographic going to be like? How much of each playstyle is there? Is there going to be a viable monetization strategy, and how acceptable is that strategy going to be for the various playstyles? And is it going to be enough to keep Landmark afloat and/or making oodles of cash?

And even, -does- Landmark need to stay afloat or make oodles of cash, or will it be shielded by SOE as the parent company, bundling the game along with its All Access Pass and/or profiting from whatever is designed in Landmark going into EQ Next?

Back to me. I’m not much of an artist builder, I can tell you that.

Nor am I much of a home builder. I can’t seem to understand the compulsion to build a pretty virtual house to stay in.

Seriously, everywhere I go, the early beginnings of a house of some kind.
Seriously, everywhere I go, the early beginnings of a house of some kind.

Further thought reveals that I am more of a -functional- builder. I build stuff to fulfill some kind of in-game need.

Zombies going to eat my face at night in Minecraft? Well, I better hack a hole into a cliff and hide in it. Or build walls to surround myself. And I may as well put a door in it so I can get in and out more easily.

frontdoor

Eri can tell you that in Terraria, my hobbit hole is good enough for me. Design and decorate a castle? Umm… no.

Landmark may not fit that building playstyle as well. Perhaps only mining for ores and designing those temporary tunnels into cave systems might fit.

Yeah, caving for mines has some promise. Though a) desert underground gets weirdly colored - bug? and b) if it's going to take forever to find enough ores for stuff, then that's not fun either.
Yeah, mining tunnels for ore, in conjunction with upcoming caves, has some promise. Though a) desert underground gets weirdly colored – bug? and b) if it’s going to take forever to find enough ores for stuff, then that’s not fun either.

Or for example, hacking a hole into the ground because I want more studio space but don’t want weird geometric creations floating in the air ruining my nice wilderness desert landscape immersion.

Not so secret hidey-hole. I made some steps for the unwary, in case they fall in.
Not so secret hidey-hole. I made some basic steps for the unwary, in case they fall in.

I suppose I -could- learn to be a bit of an artisan builder. Experimenting with microvoxels and seeing what kinds of odd geometric shapes get produced is pretty much the only thing keeping me hooked to Landmark at present.

Other people build houses. I build... um...phallic structures. They're wannabe obelisks, I swear!
Other people build houses. I build… um…phallic structures. They’re wannabe obelisks, I swear!

I probably couldn’t produce anything worth selling – far more skilled players could probably recreate them in no time flat – and besides, I bet Player Studio will never quite open for my country, with all those legalese concerns.

Problem is, the tools and various controls as they exist in Beta are somewhat awkward and not very smooth or intuitive to use.

One example and big culprit here is Shift-Tab to switch between translate, rotate and scaling, plus Tab for the directions. Having twisted my wrist far too often to the left to reach Shift+Tab one too many times, I gave up and wrote an AutoHotkey macro to keybind them elsewhere.

If you’re interested in it, it’s here:

r::Tab

q::
SendInput {LShift down}{Tab down}
SendInput {LShift up}{Tab up}
return

You can replace R and Q with whatever keys you want.

I have an entire profile on my mouse dedicated to Landmark, just to give myself two buttons for left-click (Button 5 uses the thumb and spares my index finger when it starts to scream), and to bind Numlock (Autorun? Who puts that -there?- Obviously I don’t play Everquest!) to the middle mouse button and button 4, which I use in GW2 and has become natural.

Proper keybinding cannot come soon enough in Landmark. No idea how Alpha players put up without it.

Said building tools have quirks that some dedicated builders are learning and sharing. Apparently all I had to do to fix my misshapen arch which was bumpy on one side, was to just copy the good side and mirror it. But how did I get a misshapen arch in the first place? The circle used to cut the arch and the smoothing tool used to round out the arch wasn’t consistent on either side.

The line tool acts funny. Hours are spent by players trying to work around it – avoiding holes in conical roofs, while some other player shows off how they got a straight one-voxel diagonal line from manipulating and cut-and-pasting microvoxels…

It all begs the question: Should I invest my time learning to build here, with its unique idiosyncrasies, or spend my time learning how to use a free alternative like Sketchup or Blender instead (which admittedly uses polygonal modeling, not voxels) or locating voxel modeling software or just build for fun in creative mode Minecraft when I can spawn all the blocks I desire without paying real money or grinding hours for it?

How about the other playstyles?

I confess to being weird and not minding mining or chopping wood. I find it oddly meditative.

But I don’t like feeling forced to go get them in order to get the next tier and the next tier of stuff – that just feels like busywork. I’m not really fond of game design that just exists to waste one’s time – it’s a carryover from subscription-based MMOs that shouldn’t exist in free-to-play ones.

Also, my system is truly on the low-end of the spec pool when it comes to Landmark, and starting and stopping with crashing framerates, falling through the floor and just plain crashing, or getting stuck on loadscreens and having to force the client to re-draw by hitting ctrl+alt+delete and canceling makes me think that I simply can’t participate in an Adventurer playstyle until I have the funds to upgrade to a better computer.

(Pushing the envelope is all very well, but that does restrict the playerbase some. EQ2 was reportedly less popular due to the need for high graphics capability at the time, whereas WoW’s popularity took off into a cult phenomenon – one of the foundational reasons being that people with low end computers still could play and enjoy it.)

I still have big unanswered questions about PvP, griefing and how other players are going to be able to affect you. Big questions about death penalties and potential resource loss, microtransactions and planned payment model. Other questions like:

Will my favored playstyle(s) be available for free, or low to reasonable cost?

Otherwise, why should I start now and invest the time to learn this game?

Well, don’t start now then, some people will reply.

Fair enough, I could just pack up everything, let whatever’s on my claim save into a template (assuming it does, apparently anti-voxels and negative space don’t?) and let the upkeep expire to make room for others. Log out and wait to log in later.

But fundamentally, I’m a little antsy about what the answers to the following questions are going to be:

Why should I spend a good amount of time on this game?

Unnecessary timesinks. Is that valuing my time? (I want to build creative designs unhindered by said timesinks, would be a better answer.)

Why should I keep playing?

Upkeep. In order not to lose stuff in 5 days?  (Or, because there are fun things to do that cater to multiple playstyles in-game?)

If SOE swings one way, Landmark would be dropped like a hot potato. By me, at any rate.

The other way has more promise.

But it’s all a big uncertain gamble right now, isn’t it?

Grouping and Soloing in Terraria Hardmode

Cowabunga!

Over on the Terraria end, hard-mode has been my drug of choice.

I find that I enjoy the challenge of facing something difficult and initially pwns your face off, but then steadily working out how to defeat it via better and creative tactics (and possibly incrementally better gear.)

The big BUT is that I can accept this quite easily in a singleplayer or small multiplayer game, but somehow the flow seeking for optimal challenge seems to break down in a big MMO.

One major difference that I can think of is that Terraria allows creativity of block placement and the ability to alter your scenery. You get to dig trap pits, walls and barriers to shield yourself, plot and plan and set up regeneration stations (<3 my honey pits) and the eventual reward of this industry is the capacity for “easy fun” when the mob progresses to the “on farm” phase, where you stand around, hold down a mouse button and cackle as things die and loot drops.

In a big MMO, progress is more measured by how good your gear gets, and how well your group/raid members play.

In Terraria, there is incrementally better gear as well, but progress on that front is generally a lot faster.

RNG chances of 0.5% – 1% are a LOT more palatable when you can go through one mob in under a few seconds and can generate hundreds of them in under an hour.

Contrast this with an MMO raid where you only get to test the favor of the RNG gods once a night for maybe twice a week at best and things start to get annoying very quickly.

Mobs in Terraria can be soloed. I’m not at the mercy of waiting for others to match my timings and praying they or their gear is up to the fight.

They’re also easier in a group, so there is still incentive to come together when everyone is online.

And of course, the most fun in Terraria arises from the creative collaboration. Taking the ideas of one person and then running with it, being inspired by and improving on it.

arena

The old new arena, you may recall, was a clean glitzy place marred only by the record of our untimely demise at the hands of Skeletron when we summoned him on a whim a little -too- close to the dawn.

Post-hardmode, one thing has pretty much led to another.

Our group ‘boss’ project has been the Pumpkin Moon event, a series of 15 waves to be fought during the space of night. Logically and rightfully, it’s a lot easier to push the waves when there’s more of us around than attempting to solo. (But you could always summon it solo and still try it out, so there’s no nasty restriction there.)

Eri and I once attempted the event as a duo, and got to something like Wave… 4? Memory fails. From there, we noticed the tendency of mobs to start falling into certain locations, like a lake bed, and the idea was born to start playing mechanic and wiring up traps to defeat the smaller mobs more easily. (Also conveniently getting all of us familiar with the new stuff to boot.)

Each person has built upon the ideas of the other, and our new arena is pretty danged lethal. (Note: Keep hands and feet and body away from machinery when spiky balls are in operation!)

newnewarena

The assorted junk at the center of the arena was also a collaborative effort. I stuck a honey pit and campfire (and later a heart crystal) there cos I loves me some stacked regen. I put a clock there too cos I hate shuffling around my accessories trying to check when night was coming via a GPS.

Eri set up teleporters for kiting bosses, and a bed spawn point, and a chest and other conveniences have popped on in.

I wanted to play with asphalt.

I had 999 pieces of gel to use up, and the thought of running places at double the speed was very appealing to my lazy soul. Especially for getting to the dungeon quickly to farm all the goodies inside.

What better to use it on than Eri’s already set-up highway?

Followin' the black brick road...
Followin’ the black brick road…

Of course, sometimes collaboration has a cost. It involves compromises.

The new and improved lethal trap corridor below our arena necessitated the removal of a scenic lake. Someone’s *cough* lazy draining methods have turned it into a somewhat boring rectangular underwater reservoir.

reservoirdeath
I see it also claimed the life of its builder. Hooray for turtles and their were-merfolk ability!

Of course, all this means is the ability to re-collaborate and re-improve on the design.

I’m still pondering what to do with the stored water. I recently worked out how to pump liquids with pumps and wires and am somewhat eager to play with it. Just need a good idea.

I installed a bit better lighting because turtles are still blind as a bat (need to farm my nice white light off dungeon mobs at some point), took the opportunity to redecorate my tunnel in the gaudy fashion of someone who really likes those crystal shards but has no real sense of what’s appropriate, and stuck in a new door for one more minor mob speedbump before they pop in to plague me in the midst of crafting stuff.

Oh, and I also repaved the new way up (the one that doesn’t involve flying head on into a hundred spiky balls) with asphalt, just because.

It makes a hilarious fun slide into the other pond on returning from the castle.

And the cost of the speedy new west highway?

pumpkintunnel

Someone’s pumpkin has a hole in it. A very straight worm drilled through it. That’s what a little bird told me. Yes.

Halloween’s over. Pumpkins rot, y’know?! (At least, partially.)

My creations tend to be more on the ugly but functional side of things. Especially for speeding up farming of items I want, but am too impatient to spend hours waiting for.

Terraria has been kind enough to allow increasing mob spawn rates by standing by a water candle and drinking a battle potion, so farming seems to be very much a part of the game.

I want the ability to summon Pirate Invasions, because they’re fun, and that requires a pirate map consumable that is used up per summon. You get a pirate map off a rare chance killing mobs in the Ocean biome. That involves walking to the edge of the map and lots of swimming, and I’ve already killed so many sharks in a prior search for a diving helmet that I could make shark’s fin soup if such an item existed in Terraria.

Solution? Enter the meteor farm. Placing 50 pieces of meteorite anywhere turns it into an artificial meteor biome, and in near end-game armor, a helpful leaf crystal acts like an autoturret that can one-shot the meteor heads that spawn to accompany the biome.

sunsandandmeteors

Ugly, but functional. And the wooden platform below catches most of the drops.

It also allows for more active participation when desired, because I can only AFK so long before getting trigger happy.

The other thing that I regularly amuse myself with is the artificial biome project.

I guess I just enjoy taming the wilderness by encasing it in easily accessible little bubbles that preserve its habitat for posterity. I don’t even mind the mobs that keep spawning from them, they make life fairly entertaining (though I do have a certain hatred for a giant fungi bulb that insists on throwing nasty spores in the air that whack an unaware person for 56 damage per spore.)

Home sweet artificial biomes. All trees finally growing.
Home sweet artificial biomes. All trees finally growing.

All attempts at preserving natural antlion populations are failing miserably. I think I need a longer desert.

All attempts at preserving the natural antlion populations are failing miserably. I think I need a longer desert.
Work has begun on an underground jungle, though so far, it's more of an underground fish farm.
Work has begun on an underground jungle, though so far, it’s more of an underground fish farm.

ATITD: Can I Have Your Stuff?

Karen Bryan over at Massively has been covering A Tale in the Desert recently for their Choose My Adventure article series. It’s an enjoyable read from a new player’s perspective, and it suddenly reminded me how much I actually love and miss the game.

I jettisoned it five months ago for Guild Wars 2, after playing it all out for a year, and it seemed like a good time to poke my head back in for a visit and putter around.

I’d maintained a sub on my main character, while letting my alt account lie fallow. This preserved my compounds and my resources from the scavenging player vultures – one of the first and only laws that is passed every Telling is an act that allows active players to tear down and salvage resources from players who have quit or let their subs expire.

Known as the Departed Persons Act (or DPA) this time around, most of the wording never changes except for the length of leeway time a previously paid up player has. In all fairness, the act that seems most generally accepted is the longest period, of two months, in this case, despite a few players trying to argue for a shorter timespan.

The stated ‘public good’ idea behind this is one of resource renewal and lebensraum for new players. If old player structures are allowed to sit there for all eternity (or at least until the new Telling), slowly and gradually the best locations will get taken up and newer players forced to move outward to less convenient territory. See Wurm Online for an example of this – one has to walk a very long distance from the starting area to maybe find a good spot to build – and even Wurm has building deterioration for non-subbed players baked in.

Trial players of ATITD especially have a habit of leaving wood planes, brick racks and flax distaffs littering the landscape behind them – since the citizenship tutorial requires them to make said items, and then they promptly either quit because the grind / the running / the graphics got to be too much or they make their home far away from where they started and completely forget where the hell they left their early stuff.

Usually the former.

And since they have no knowledge of the long-term implications (the stuff doesn’t go away by itself), no interest in establishing long-term ties with the community or value the game as a whole, cleaning up after themselves is less important or just not a natural reflex (I mean, who destroys the stuff they themselves built?)

Hence the litter.

And hence the solution to solve it in the form of DPA.

That’s the nice explanation.

The profiteering explanation is that as older veteran players get bored of the game, and they will, a couple may storm off if they had a massive drama implosion somewhere, a lot will get knocked out by the unending grind and monotony after three, six, nine months, a year…

… other players can stand to gain from the resources collected and hoarded by these players. It’s a bit of a crapshoot, if they didn’t advance very far, there may not be anything of real value but you might be able to finally get rid of an annoying eyesore of a building too near you. Or you might find pretty nice stuff, like a wine bottled in the early days of the Telling, which would have developed into something very fine by the time you drink it down now.

It’s easy for some people to leap to a moral judgement about such things.

From one perspective, it is a bit slimy and vulture-like. Especially if someone watches the days of an unpaid player count down like a hawk (one can /info them and see how many days their account is unpaid) and turns up the very second (literally) the time ticks over 60 days to lay claim to their stuff. Some people can get quite competitive about this, since only the first at the scene will get the goods.

Then there was the recent complaint I just overheard over the Egypt public channel on my return – where apparently someone crept into an entire guild’s multiple compounds close together (of which there were still active players within) and located the one warehouse that a quit member neglected to set ownership rights to the guild for, and nabbed it with DPA before any of the active guild members could log on and get to it. They tore it down, apparently, so the guild members couldn’t see who laid claim to it, and the contents, whatever they were, walked off with.

Of such stuff is drama and conflict made.

From another perspective, we have a recollection of Van Hemlock’s venture into ATITD (whose blog post is now unfortunately lost to the mists of time.)

-I- remember, anyway, that Van Hemlock wrote about finding an old player’s compound much further along the technology tree than his compatriots and he, and claimed it with the DPA variant active at that time. They joyously ran back to their own compound with riches, riches beyond their wildest imaginings as newbies, and those resources allowed him to construct an anvil and experiment with blacksmithing – something he was most taken with and wrote about in his blog – which in turn captivated others like me into trying out the game in the first place.

If a newbie gets to an older player’s compound first, it can be an enabler. Something without which, they would not have progressed as far in ATITD.

Then again, what are the chances of a newbie getting there first versus the experienced vultures?

Personally, I would have liked to see something that allowed a player to tear down stuff after the sixty days are up, without gaining any of the resources. That would allow eyesores to be taken down, but remove all personal resource profit from the equation.

That, I suspect, would encourage folks to leave most of the buildings be, as long as they weren’t in anyone’s way.

Why?

I like seeing the remains of civilization. Egypt is so empty anyway, it’s nice to see where people have been and stayed. Yet, if someone new really wanted to build in that location, they could take it down and set up there regardless.

But I doubt that law will ever pass.

For most players, those unused resources are ‘a waste’ if never used. After all, if a benevolent veteran gets to it, they may use it to further research in the Egypt-wide technologies at Universities. So sayeth the public good explanation anyway.

In the previous two Tellings I’ve participated in, when I lost interest, I left for good and only came back on free weekends to poke my head around – and sure enough, my stuff was gone.

I hope it made -someone- happy.

(Funny story: I did meet an extra-friendly player once on one of these check-back-in visits, who actually plied me with completely free items to sacrifice to a Vigil in progress. I kept her company, because I was in the mood for chatting and because I loved the adrenaline rush of a good Vigil, growing more and more stunned at the sheer quantity of stuff she was generously throwing at me to let the fire consume for good…

…then it turned out in the course of the friendly conversation that she was the one who had salvaged my compounds of stuff.

Lol, guilty conscience, perhaps? And wanting to even out the scales?

At the time, I had no intentions of restarting the game and assured her so. I was just there for fun, for a good chat and also help the Vigil along by my presence (since having more people participate multiplies your points, over doing one solo as she had been attempting.))

Guilds have an advantage in that as long as there is one player still subbed, no one else can claim it from your collective. Then again, the disadvantage of multiple persons in a guild is that any of them can steal the guild’s stuff if they wanted to. Guild theft is a possibility of pretty much all MMOs, not merely ATITD, if one’s permissions are not set properly to trusted individuals.

Me, I’m a paranoid type of person and need to keep my personal stuff separate from group stuff. I like to think this makes me more reliable when joining group guilds because I don’t -need- the guild stuff, I have my own stuff to draw from.

But it means that to keep my stuff, I’ll have to maintain the sub (with a month or two of leeway.)

As a mostly solo player, such is life in the desert, vultures and all.

In Search of Emergence and Player-Created Narrative

An odd sort of ennui has come over me lately. I have, quite literally, more than a hundred games I could be playing at any given moment – some of them MMOs, and some of them singleplayer ones. But none of them appear to match or fulfill this restless craving desire that has woken within me.

I’m normally quite good at matching specific games to specific needs. I had a strategic and mild tactical urge a couple days back, so several hundred turns of Civilization V and some dickering around with Total War: Shogun 2 it was. I went through a bout or two of casual games when I just needed a short gaming spurt. But recently, I have developed a growingly insatiable desire for a game that can inspire a story to be written about what happens while playing it.

Moreover, I’m hoping for something more than a developer-created narrative, the same old linear things that every player of the game sees, be it in the same or different order. Writing about how Vault Dweller X pops out of their vault and saves/nukes Megaton and ignores/saves Dad and massacres post-apocalyptic wildlife of every shape and size is… well, been there, done that. Obviously there has to be some developer input, even Dwarf Fortress establishes setting and what you’ll be dealing with (dwarves!), but I guess I’m grasping for emergence. Something that surprises the player, and perhaps even surprises the developer. Something that doesn’t happen in every other player’s game.

I’m looking for a Boatmurdered. An epic diary of Neptune’s Pride, preferably with roleplaying. I don’t need a multiplayer setting/world where every player has this sort of experience, thankfully, else my choices end up boiling down to Eve Online, I think.

And I want it in a different game from the above examples.

Oh, I tried Dwarf Fortress. It’s certainly intricate and complex, but it takes way too much time to learn and play. My one serious attempt ended up with one and a half seasons of uneventful thriving, before another season of flooding and drowning because my enthusiastic approach to irrigation sent a dwarf digging an open tunnel into the side of a river, which, judging by the volume of water which emerged, was about the size of the Thames. One year later, of endlessly digging deep deep reservoirs just ahead of the rising waters to stave off inevitable fate, I gave up.

I’m not especially keen on multiplayer competition, which rather rules out things like Neptune’s Pride, Solium Infernum, Eve Online and the like. I don’t really need the additional complication of real people and their emotional needs/drives messing up any storylines. Imaginary characters, be they computer-controlled or me-controlled, do just fine.

I was looking at roguelikes as a potential source of story fodder, but as much as I like Angband for its simplicity and games like TOME and ADOM (they might be going under different names like JADE and what not by now), they have the dungeon crawl structure. Have town, have dungeon, dive deep, kill stuff, level up, sell stuff, eat food, try not to die by all manner of different things, fail at that goal, admire gravestone, try again.

I’m rather tired of the survival theme. I don’t own Arma II, I think it’s too expensive at the moment, they’re relentlessly cashing in on DayZ and I’ve no real interest in trying it out as yet. Survival + other people. It’s no doubt interesting, but it doesn’t match the current desire. Minecraft is okay, but it’s missing the element of surprise/story/other NPC interaction. It boils down to a lone survivor story again, eking out an existence, Robinson-Crusoe-like, building an immense fortification of creativity out of what is present in nature. Terraria was more of a gear grind. Unreal World is way too lethal, unless you know certain loopholes for trading useless bits of wood to villagers, I tend to starve to death before managing to hunt or trap anything. And the story again is survival-based, don’t starve, don’t die of thirst, build a fancy house, profit, till you die.

I had an almost got-the-feeling-I-wanted moment while playing Civilization V, as I marched four units of mechanized infantry and a giant death robot down the continent wiping up the last holdout Korean civilization.

The German military machine. Panzers (ok, a gifted tank from Budapest I hadn’t the heart to get rid of) lead the way , infantry follow in futuristic APCs, supporting the titanic mech stomping across the sands. Korean workers look on wordlessly.

I was playing Bismarck and the German Empire, espousing the social policies of Liberty, Honor, Order, Rationalism and Commerce. I envisioned this as a expansionist, liberal (in terms of whatever other races or cultures were annexed into the Empire) civ, but focused on science/technology and merchantilism as a means of maintaining power and autarky, having both a very militaristic and honor-based tradition and a nationalistic pride. In other words, join our Empire and prosper. Work hard and see, you will reap the rewards of our science, our art and culture and great people. If you are foolish enough not to want to join the Great German Empire, then we will not hesitate to move in our advanced troops and -make- you join, by removing your foolish, rude, leaders.

The Korean leader had been previously both insulting and kept denouncing me at every opportunity, despite my obvious dominance of that particular game, and so, after I finished a Tech victory, then a Diplomatic one (by virtue of saving and reloading just before winning), I decided it was time for a military Dominance victory, declared war and moved in the troops. For the heck of it, since I had the tech, and since I was convinced there must be a Steam achievement for it, I made a nuke or two and dropped it on top of the capital, Seoul, and the southern Korean city of Pyongyang – it wasn’t easy finding a safe place I could bomb without nuking my own troops in the vicinity.

Nuclear devastation chars the landscape, as mechanized land troops march down implacably from the north, and battleships form a naval blockade around the coastal Korean cities.

And as I moved the umpteen bomber in from neighboring cities and aircraft carriers, softening up the Korean cities for my infantry to march in and annex, fragments of an almost Harry Turtledove Worldwar scenario came to my mind.

A stealth bomber rains its bombs down upon Seoul, its air superiority unchallenged.

I envisioned a Korean girl, writing by candlelight in the darkness, to the distant sounds of bombs shelling other city districts, wondering to her diary about why these strange German invaders had come. Of her telling her diary about the massive mech she saw on the horizon, and the tiny APCs around its feet, dwarfed by the giant, grim uniformed men with sophisticated rifles moving like ants in a long disciplined line.

The nuked Pyongyang offers barely any resistance as the conquerors crack it open with high explosive shells.

I imagined a young German soldier, wrapped in protective gear and breathing mask, looking about him in dismay at the wreckage of Pyongyang, the irradiated fallout having destroyed practically any resistance or indeed, any semblance of hope, in the starved shambles of the city.

From the inside, Pyongyang is a guttered out mess. A measly 2 citizens (in Civ terms) remain. The farm and fields are devastated by nuclear fallout and the citizens are scraping out a meagre existence on tundra and mines that escaped the radiation. There is barely any food.

He tells himself that in a few years, maybe five, not more than ten, certainly, the city, having come under the Great German Empire, will be better for it. It will be richer, more prosperous, linked to trade routes, it will have all the benefits of science and technology, it will have happy hardworking workers, “Arbeit macht frei.”

After all, centuries later, the Polynesian peoples and the ancient Germanic peoples have long intermixed on the mother continent, and the pointless warring between the Chinese and the Americans on this continent have finally ceased by virtue of both coming under the banner of the German republic, two, three decades later, all the cities are happy, productive contributers to greater society.

See how the Americans and Chinese thrive under Germanic rule!

But a theoretical better future is hard to believe in, when you are afraid to walk now, in the fields glowing with ash and the Geiger counters crackling crazily, and thin skeletal Koreans with dirty or burned faces eye you warily, or even hostilely. He wants to help, but he doesn’t know how.

And a decade or so later, perhaps the same Korean girl, or another, writes about how the strange alien Germans, having occupied Pyongyang and brought it under the rule, move in a fleet of workers in just as orderly a fashion as the army marched in. Equipped with uncomprehensible technology in trucks and suits, they clean out every trace of the fallout that they themselves inflicted.

Years later, the south begins to thrive and look green once more. Workers throng the fields of Pyongyang, assiduously removing every last speck of radioactive soil.
Ominously, almost beyond the view, is the ring of land and sea troops along the last Korean border.

In fact, they run the risk of contaminating themselves with radiation sickness, but they shrug it off as their duty to the Fatherland, which Pyongyang is now part of.  With typical German efficiency, they install modern farms and roads, and motor off, leaving the city on its way to recovery. Perhaps the Germans are not so bad after all…

…Meanwhile, the ring around Seoul tightens. The naval blockade has been there for years. No news gets out from the capital.

Something like that, anyhow.

Vanilla Civilization V unfortunately seems to have very little AI sophistication. Everyone is cheerfully friendly all the time, unless you decide to move in on them. Then again, remembering previous Civ games past, I don’t think having aggressive cheating AI swamp my spearmen with knights running from an endless faucet is terribly fun or interesting either, you end up militarizing to defend against the zerg and either you die or you win and annex their city and now that you have such a massive army anyway…

There’s not much room for a narrative to go after that. All hail the king of the world, or Ozymandias.

Problem is, I’m also moderately tired of combat as conflict resolution. (Or rather, relentless slaughter masquerading as combat as conflict resolution.)

This knocks out an immense number of games. Every MMO that has quests and combat, well, kill that to solve this problem. Kill 5 or 10 or 15 or 500 of that to solve that other problem. Sorry, kill is such a vulgar word. Let’s call it, “defeat.” *coughs*

Doesn’t change much, alas.

I dabbled a bit with Hunters 2 on the iPad. It’s a pretty slick-looking game, somewhat reminiscent of X-COM. I could also play X-COM, which I have on Steam, but turn-based tactics is not feeding the exact need. So a Blood Bowl league story format and such are right out too. For now, anyway.

What’s left? I don’t know. Fallen London’s random resolution and grindy style isn’t cutting it either. It just feels like I’m clicking on a button and waiting for a result to show up. Repeat x 10 to get anywhere.

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve moved away from computer gaming and gone back to idly browsing through tabletop RPGs from RPGnow, and combing through solo roleplaying blogs, wondering if I need to go back to the Mythic Game Master Emulator to get what I’m looking for. I’ve found a few intriguing ideas, but am still trying to put things together in my head. If it gets to a form that can actually be articulated, I’ll be certain to share.