How to Beat World of Warcraft

Every week I hear a new studio talking about how Licensed MMO X will topple World of Warcraft and ascend to the throne of MMO supremacy.

They’re all fucking morons and 100% wrong. They know it, too. Most of these people will be ecstatic should they breach 1 million subscribers.

World of Warcraft is far from an unassailable tower, provided you hit it from the proper direction. So far, studios have lined up to make Generic Fantasy Mummorpurgers before the gates of Mordor, marching proudly with their gleaming swords and armor, only to toss all that crap aside at release and ritualistically disembowel themselves, gut-shitting a final product of intestines and bodily fluids into retail (see: Vanguard).

Here’s a simple guide to would-be developers as to how to unseat the King, or at least become one yourself.

  1. Do not make games based on nothing. This should be obvious. World of Warcraft built upon the storyline of the Warcraft RTS games, which themselves stole liberally from Games Workshop, who stole liberally from fantasy writers X, Y, and Z. No one gives two shits about Everquest Lady and with good reason. Have something to build on.
  2. Do not make licensed MMOs. Same problem in the opposite direction. Here you are trying to build your empire in the middle of someone else’s larger, more profitable empire. No doubt you’ll be forced to put Han and Chewie into the starting area just to appease the suits. This is one of the reasons Age of Conan and Warhammer Online will fail: They’ve got too much baggage. Warcraft had three successful games plus expansions.
  3. For fuck’s sake don’t make a fantasy game. It’s been done. They own fantasy. Make a fantasy game and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Everyone who wants to play a fantasy MMO is playing World of Warcraft or one of the stragglers around the periphery that hasn’t been crushed by Blizzard’s massive dick.
  4. Limit yourself to blatantly stealing only one thing from WoW at a time. I suggest the interface, they did it about as well as you can do it, and left the community to fill in the gaps. The interface is accessible and functional up until the final levels, when they’ve already got you smoking their crack. At that point, you’re hardcore enough to go out and customize it on your own. For many interface customization in WoW is a meta-game, try to make the sleekest interface, so you can post it on forums to enhance your e-peen.
  5. Make a Sci-Fi MMO. This is the only strong point from which you can take on Blizzard, and believe me this window won’t be open for long. Blizzard is no doubt already making plans for a Starcraft MMO. There are many properties in gaming that would be conducive to a sci-fi MMO. Halo. Get to work, Microsoft.
  6. Failing that, don’t make it an RPG. MMOFPS has been attempted, albeit ham-fistedly. With a compelling enough storyline an MMOFPS could work. MMORTS is far dicier, given the non-personal nature of RTS units versus player-characters.
  7. Make it for consoles and not PC!  It’s a gambit but one that will work out some time.
  8. Above all else: Stop saying that you are making a “WoW Killer”.  Its like a “Halo Killer” or an “iPod Killer”.  You can’t beat a product that has ascended into the cultural lexicon so completely that it becomes the measure for success.  You can beat a product, you can’t beat culture, unless you’re the Chinese Government.

You’re welcome, game designers.  Now I gotta go farm primals to pay for my epic flyer.

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Chris Taylor is Wrong

So Chris Taylor, he of Total Annihilation fame, is demagoguing about how to “save PC gaming”.  Of course, he’s got it wrong.

Putting aside the fact that he’s an irrelevant fucktard, a one-hit-wonder of a game developer whose library is a cavalcade of mediocrity, to ape the inimitable Yahtzee, he’s on the wrong path.

Taylor says that the future of gaming is in “Secure PC Gaming” a nebulous term that in hu-man language means “draconian copy protection”.  He claims the problem is widespread piracy, and that the only way to save PC gaming is to inconvenience everyone.  This is wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

As the music and film industries have so valiantly failed to learn, piracy is not the problem, it is the symptom of the problem.  Namely, barriers to entry including, but not limited to, rising costs and draconian copy protection.  Simply put, the problem is that it is easier to pirate something than to acquire it legally.  PC gaming, however, has another problem, a great big problem so glaring that the herculean effort required to ignore it defies the laws of science.

It’s the system requirements.

Let’s put this in perspective, I am a life-long PC gamer, I cut my teeth on this stuff.  I’ve long supported the platform and it is my fervent belief that the mouse and keyboard are the gaming equivalent of lightsabers, that is to say, “finer weapons, for a more civilized age.”   My computer is four months old, it has a processor that can think faster than God and enough RAM to store the collected knowledge of humanity.  It cannot run Crysis above “low” settings.  It cannot even meet minimums for the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed port.  Considering it rarely runs above 1280×720, this is ridiculous.

There are PC games being made these days for a machine that does not fucking exist.  That is the problem, not piracy.  The solution is simple, though.  In fact, several companies are already doing monstrous business by using it!

Stop competing with the consoles.

World of Warcraft can run on just about anything.  Ditto for The Sims.  I bet Spore won’t require a demonically-empowered quantum-shitstomper of a machine to run, either.  The fact is, the PC cannot, nor should it compete for graphical supremacy with the consoles.  They’ve got the high ground, they’ve usurped the mantle of prettiest princess at the ball.  Making games that people can’t play is capital-R Retarded.

Make games that will run on three-year-old machines.  At the very least, don’t develop for hardware that doesn’t exist.  Sell your games through Steam, and for god’s sake don’t saddle retail boxes with restrictive DRM.  A CD-Key is enough.  I don’t know a single person among my friends and acquaintances who pirated StarCraft.  Everyone bought it, and they bought it because the online experience was so compelling that they would rather have paid the cost of entry than found some arcane method of circumventing that barrier.  To my knowledge, it had no copy protection beyond a CD-Key and requiring the disc in the drive.  None.

The audience for PC gaming is there, Blizzard has proven it time and time again.  They don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to upgrade their computers, at least not along the schedules that PC developers have decided upon.  Chris Taylor wants to punish consumers for a problem that he doesn’t even understand.  For my part I’m glad no one in their right mind would listen to him.

Thinking With Portals.

There’s a nice discussion on The Escapist in regards to everyone’s favorite First-Person-Puzzler, Portal.

It got me thinking, as it were, about just how much Valve (and the inevitable copycats) will be able to do with this concept. The game, if you haven’t played it yet, is perhaps the best technically-executed idea in gaming right now. The concept is simple, you have a gun, the gun can fire two portals, you need to use it, along with the laws of physics, to complete a series of challenges in exchange for some delicious cake.

Did I mention it is also one of the funniest games of the year? I should.

The aforementioned thread is mostly about what you would do with a portal gun in the real world. Suggestions range from solving the planet’s energy crisis to theft. The fine folks at Rooster Teeth have their own predictably scatological take on the idea, as well. And while the possibilities are truly endless, I’m more interested in how this is going to change games.

What if we put the portal gun into other games? Take Bioshock, for instance. One could open a portal below a nearby font of water and then open another above a group of unsuspecting splicers, proceeding to give them the trusty electroshock. A non-FPS game, maybe.

Take the sci-fi third-person-action-rpg-wtf-bbq of Mass Effect. In a tactical setting, you could order one squadmate to open a portal behind a patrol of enemies, and another to open a portal in cover, allowing you to flank them before they realize you’re there.

In Starcraft 2, something like this is more or less in place for the Protoss, and let’s not forget the Nydus Canal of the original. Send a single scout-type unit to a distant staging ground, and use it to bring your army in without them having to traverse the chaotic middle-fields of RTS.

Perhaps a more potent example would be for Supreme Commander. The vast expanses of that title lend to massive offenses, flanking maneuvers, and feints, not to mention aerial and naval combat. By adding a portal-gun device the entire game could be turned into a frenetic game of militaristic cat-and-mouse, perhaps an airship capable of deploying two portals at a time, allowing for a hasty retreat from a compromised staging ground, or a surprise rear-assault into a heavily fortified enemy encampment.

The same sort of idea can be adapted to fantasy settings by swapping technology for arcane magics. Take an Elder Scrolls game with portal-oriented puzzles. Set up a portal near an inquisitive guard and wait on the other end for them to inspect, delivering a fearsome bolt of lightning at them once they take the bait. Then drag the body back through to hide the evidence from his friends.

The mechanic is solid, and can add a whole new layer of depth to games that are conducive to it. I’d look for some very, very similar ideas being announced for future titles, soon.

The 15 Games I Couldn’t Live Without

(Response to Milky’s blog Here)

In no particular order…

1. Deus Ex – PC. Remains the most mind-blowing game I’ve ever played. I’ve beaten the entire game a good seven times, by now.

2. Starcraft/Brood War – PC. Self-explanatory. Second game I ever played. Needless to say, it was all downhill from there.

3. Rez – PS2. More than a game, it’s a damn hallucination programmed onto a little blue disc. The music, visuals, and force-feedback took an otherwise alright game into an experience that still hasn’t been matched, in my mind.

4. Civilization IV – PC. Single-player chess. I could go a lifetime without mastering it.

5. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic – Xbox. The only game I’ve played through as much as Deus Ex.

6. Harvest Moon 64 – Nintendo 64. Farming has never been this fun. And the choices… do I actually plant crops or do I try and marry Karen before she moves away?

7. Shadow of the Colossus – PS2. I never played ICO, I know, shame on me, but this game is beautiful.

8. Unreal Tournament 2004 – PC. For me, the peak of Deathmatch games. The bot AI is still pretty wicked.

9. Team Fortress Classic – PC. As far as team-based first person shooters go, I never really got into one other than this. I memorized Dustbowl inside and out, and played for a good three hours a night, back in the day.

10. Grim Fandango – PC. Manny Calavera? Hells yes.

11. Morrowind – PC. Better than the sequel, if only for it’s incredibly deep gameplay.

12. Homeworld 2 – PC. For sheer depth of strategy, I don’t think it can be beat, even today.

13. Freelancer – PC. Diablo in space with pretty graphics, oh, and extensive modability. Not a bad single-player campaign either.

14. Soul Calibur – Dreamcast. The Dreamcast holds a special place in my heart, even though it came after I had developed a love of PC games and certain N64 games, it was amazing. Soul Calibur 1 is tops in my book for fighters.

15. The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess – Wii. I’ve played a lot of games in recent months, but none has left such an impact as this. I know people go back and forth on this, but I prefer it to Ocarina of Time. One of the only recent games to really grab hold of me with the epic feel, right through to the climactic fight and the heartbreaking denouement.

So that’s it. Anyone else want to list some stuff off?