Friday, April 9, 2010

Burnt Offerings and other terrible metaphors

I like games. I've played CCG (Collectible Card Games), Tabletop RPGs (more systems than I'm willing to list), board games (both American and "German" style), video games on systems dating back to ColecoVision, MMORPGS in limited varieties, FPS games, Turn Based Strategy, Tabletop Wargames (if I never paint another stinking Eldar I can die a happy man), I've even LARPed (if you don't know what LARP is I'm not going to explain it and if you do know about it you can't laugh because you are probably as pathetic a soul a me. So when I say "I like games" I am not just talking about one small corner of the genre. And while this is an Eve Blog please indulge my brief moment of exposition on gaming in general (or just don't read the post, it isn't like I'll know the difference.)

There are three main reasons I enjoy playing a game. They are as follows:

  1. The story latches onto me like a pitbull convinced I'm smuggling prime rib in my trousers.
  2. There is some element of social interaction that just makes the game compelling to play, in essence the game is merely a vehicle for me and my friends to have a good time.
  3. The intellectual puzzle the game provides gives me hours of endless amusement, either a puzzle I must master on my own or a chance for me to grind my brain against an opponents till one of use emerges victorious.
  4. Or there is an element of prowess, either through hand eye coordination, effective use of real time strategy, or some other measurable skill that exists in the moment

    (the main difference between 2 and 3 is the immediacy of 3. I'm allowed to mull over a move in Scrabble or a turn of Civilization for a long time, or at least until my opponent brains me. But I can't ponder the mysteries of a Zerg rush and live, its is a matter of skillful reaction.)
Theses four elements are what a game must bring to the table. I then sit down to this scrumptious feast, and it was as if I were a god demanding tribute. For a game to win my favor it must give until I am no longer hungry. I don't require games to stuff me full of each element, certainly some games bring more of one than another. Chess has no engaging story beyond the basic imagination of the pieces as man at arms, but it gives me quite a healthy dose of brain bashing and in tournament play an extra generous helping of quick thinking to boot. Apples to Apples (if you aren't familiar shame on you) has very little in terms of prowess or puzzle, but it continues to ram social interaction with friends down my throat until I choke.

Video/Computer games, logically, follow the same formula. A game like Civ has a modestly rich story and decent bit of brain bashing, though it doesn't bring much in terms of prowess. The wonderful Half Life series gives us a very large plateful of story and prowess with a nice side of problem solving. Portal tends to flip the prowess and problem solving around on us, and I'd argue it has as much story if not more - who do you think is quoted more, the G man or GLaDOS? Other games like Mario Brother and Megaman gave us a small taste of story and a bucket of prowess, though in two player mode it also gave us a good deal of social interaction, while Tetris was purely a drop down Jello filled pool of skill and prowess.

MMORPGs were an interesting addition to the fold. In many ways they were the first game that pretty much forced social interaction and teamwork down your throat. Sure, bridge or monopoly might bring four people together to play a game and socialize, but Molten Core brought you and 39 people together and told you to work out your differences or be Ragnaros's toothpick. Yes, I know that there were social gaming groups before, clans in Team Fortress, MUDs and other such games, there was even Chess and War Games that were played by mail. But the MMORPG took teamwork with strangers to a new gaming level that was even larger than any regulation sports team I can think of, realistically most WoW guilds have more members than your average bullpen.

And MMORPGs brought other tasty treats to the table for me to devour. The knowledge of combing over gear sets for the ideal pairing, the timing of getting down a combat rotation, the puzzle of figuring out what the hell you were going to do to defeat this next boss. One thing WoW had in spades was the story. Love it or hate it, there is a rich lore to World of Warcraft. It started in the RTS games and it has just grown like a beautiful oak in the MMORPG. The story of Arthas' fall from grace is epic, and I mean that in the literal sense. Some of the stories Blizzard has crafted are as epic as the plight of Oedipus or the story of Jason and Argonauts.

So this brings me to Eve (and for those of you still with me I applaud your tenacity) and what does Eve offer me at my feast of gaming delights. Clearly it is a social game, corps are made to be social and I would argue that almost any game with a chat window anywhere in it was trying to be somewhat social. Eve definitely gives me a whooping does of brain bashing. The skill system, as I've commented before, made my eyes bleed when I first looked at it and even today it still gives me a headache. It also dishes out a healthy dessert of skill, the combat system is more forgiving than Megaman, but there have definitely been panic moments when all that saved me was my ability to identify the critical targets, get out of range, and run like a coward before I was popped. But as a high sec miner there isn't a whole lot of prowess needed to hunt down my veldspar, it moves slow and it has trouble cloaking.

There is one area where Eve has given me very little to digest, and that is in terms of immersive, grab you by the short hairs, compelling story. Now before I'm crucified allow me to explain. In other MMORPGs the quests are pretty basic, kill 30 bears, have a shiny sword. These are the drill and kill quest lines that help you get from lvl 1 to lvl MAX. But in WoW they also included some pretty amazing quest lines. I enjoyed working my way to becoming Queen of the Ogres (as a Nightelf) I gasped when I first saw Lady Prestor turn into Onyxia. And I loved the end of those epic Boss fights, it is hard to choose a favorite, but I think it might have to be Archimonde in the battle of Mount Hyjal. Yes, they diminished slightly with repetition, but there was always the expanding content, the next dungeon, the next boss, the next expansion. Even some of the lowly grind and kill quest lines had great writing when you bothered to read the flavor text.

Eve, in contrast, has some of the most boring quests in the world. Grinding standing with Zoars and Sons I have been informed that idiot miners have forgotten their drills again and they want me to play FedEx. Even the combat missions don't have very great stories (except for a few) and those grow tired extremely fast. Even the storyline missions are mundane and very everyday like. Yes, some of the combat missions are challenging, but that is Eve trying to serve me another helping of prowess with a few jimmies of story on top and hoping I don't notice the difference. That said, it does fit perfectly into the setting of Eve, the systems in Eve are built around real economies, real mining, real manufacturing, and that means real missions. But the opening cinematic mentioned me being an Immortal a God among men, apparently I'm a god of delivery services.

Perhaps I just haven't gotten deep enough into the game to hit upon the nugget of great story in the core, but close to or over a year in (I honestly don't know) and I feel I should be finding something. Eve, the game, constantly seems to come up dry in terms of story.

The funny thing is that Eve the Community doesn't. If I want compelling and fascinating stories, both fact and fiction, all I need to do is cruise the blogs. The writing of the players is pretty good if you find the right sources, and even if the writing isn't amazing prose the sheer hilarity of what happens to some people is enough to make up for it. So how should I judge Eve, by the game as packaged or by the community? In some ways to say the community makes up for what the game lacks would be like saying I shouldn't judge Super Mario Brothers till I read this great fanfic this guy wrote. So while the Eve Community does some of the most enjoyable game based writing I've seen I can only say I wish CCP had put more of it into the game itself.

Now this isn't a post where I'm trashing Eve, like I said before I love chess and Eve clearly has more story than a chessboard, but what I'm trying to express is a bit of woeful regret. Eve is game that I have grown to love. It is by far the best overall MMORPG I have played. It pulls together so many elements into a pleasurable package that works and I applaud CCP and their amazing developers for that. I merely lament that it couldn't have been the Holy Grail of MMORPGdom that I am waiting to see. Who knows, I am hoping that with Dust 514 I'll get that missing piece. If CCP could make the Eve universe explode into bright technicolor dreams of imagination for me beyond the opening movies and a few isolated beautiful moments in space I would be a very happy capsuleer. 

4 comments:

  1. Do you roleplay on EvE? If not and you are interested in it, shoot me a mail in game, I'll take you around to some of the rp channels.

    -Shalee Lianne

    ps. I like your blog and the way you write. Good stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shalee,

    I haven't roleplayed on Eve in the past. I've never been able to get into the roleplaying mode in games like WoW or MUDs because the life after death aspects made it trivial. There were no consequences for my actions in WoW and there was no mechanic to have their be consequences for my actions.

    Some roleplay MUSHes were much better in the sense that what you did changed the world. It mattered in a grander scheme of things. And if you performed some hideous action, like walked up and slapped the emperor you could be certain that you were going to be making a new character because death was permanent.

    I'm not sure how I'd take to Eve roleplay. With the clones at least ineffectiveness of the grim reaper is well explained (something other MMORPGs only have a tenuous grasp on - did I really stop Onyxia's plan if she just needs to do a corpse run?) And players do have a healthy interaction on the world. There are POS, there is the Council that is player based, corps are player based as well. If I went up and pissed off the head of a corporation he could wardec me and make my life hell.

    But at the same time something I love about Eve, the single server, creates another problem. We aren't all playing with the same set of expectations. And roleplay can be somewhat hampered when people start dropping references to Sponge Bob and the last episode of The Office.

    However, I think I might take you up on your offer and see what Eve has to offer. It has surprised me many times so far, so I'd love to give it the chance to surprise me again.

    Thanks!

    PS - gee, you post a comment and you get what could almost be a separate blog entry as a response.

    PSS - I actually might steal my response from myself at some point and make it another entry if I'm strapped for content.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hiya again.

    I used to play WoW some and though I played on a rping server, I never really got into RP there.

    But on EVE, I don't think I'd play it if I weren't rping.

    Mostly in the rp community, there is a clear divide between IC and OOC. Everything that happens in space is obvious IC.

    Things that happen in comm channels are either IC or OOC, depending on the channel. There are many channels that are solely for RP, that are supposed to be physical locations, ie a pirate bar, an Amarrian church, etc. Everything in there is in-character.

    There are plenty of OOC channels for the rpers as well, where we gossip about what is happening in the rp channels lol.

    Anyhow, cya on the game :)

    ReplyDelete
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