Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Herding Cats

10 turned into 7. More boys than girls and I’d have preferred the inverses. The headset screeched and screamed. They all headed off in separate directions. The moment you took to help one was the moment you lost the 6 others.

What World of Warcraft got right Free Realms has gotten wrong. Communication in game is specific and strenuous.  Local, Group and Whisper are segregated in a way that makes it difficult not only to send, but to read.

Why would any community game not invest the most effort in communication? I asked my young friend from last post why she went back to Club Penguin. Her response was that she could talk to people there. Talking is important to her. I think talking is important to all of us. The designers don’t seem to get that.

I ended my session with the squealers and happily so for all of us. They seemed happy to be let loose. I was happy to not be the guy herding cats (as happy as I’ll be to cash the check). There is something wrong about trying to guide someone’s game experience.  It is better to just share tales over a beer . . . so . . . maybe in ten years they can tell me what it meant to them.

. . .

There are mini-games in Free Realms. Last night, all my dreams were based on one of them. I played the mini-game of Penguin Defense for hours. I placed all my defenses and fought off the invaders. Once I won I sought to prefect my defense. At first I could save one fish, but later I was able to save all 15 fish.

Trust me on this . . . the mini-games is the future of MMOGs. First is communication. Second is an efficient time killer. Mini-games kill time with the precisions of a Navy sniper shooting a Somali pirate. Communication is about community, but following that is the need to kill boredom. At least Free Realms does that . . . as the cats scurry about.

. . .

No more from me on this or that until Global Agenda or Star Trek. Until then, I expect that WOW will continue to suck up all the oxygen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My netherdrake, let me show you it.

Hypatie has infected me with pet/mount-itis, a horrible disease in which the infected player obsesses about the acquisition of cool and numerous, preferrably rare, mounts and pets. I spent close to four days (if you totaled the hours) grinding Netherwing faction reputation to get this baby. I picked the green one, not because I like green, but because I've never seen a green one. Everyone picks blue or purple. Yes, I am now grinding another rep. This time it's Orgrimar and Cenarion Expedition. Nothing exotic or rare, but another pet to add to the stable: the brown swift wolf and the CE War Hippogryph.

Now that I'm up on the lore, I'm digging the game even more. Here's a picture of Illidian Stormrage, came to yell at me as part of the Netherwing rep grind. He's a scary bad boy, eh? And now I have so much sympathy for Sylvanas. Man, she really got messed over by Arthas.

Guild life is fun, largely when my fav silly people are on. Otherwise it's a tad annoying with lots of penis comparison disguised as discussions of gear and stats. LOL, jk. sorta. (If the boys read this, which I doubt.) And some of the fun people ARE guys. I'm not THAT gendered. But something does happen when a certain critical mass is online. All the talk turns to comparisons and assertions of expertise. In fact, I have noticed there are occasions where I've turned down a dungeon invite because it is largely comprised of the competitive core.

I've gotten Hells to lvl 74 and am realizing she's pretty fucking powerful, even solo. They must have buffed up the 'locks when I wasn't looking. Tynaqua hit 80, but she's an alt and always scrounging for good gear. I'm guessing she'll have to go the PVP route. =sigh= JBR, you can now, finally, dual spec! And I have a second spec for Fortknight that is frost-tank. I haven't yet had the chance to run with it, but I'm kinda looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free Realms

I’ve dabbled, but not dedicated much time to any game the last year that couldn’t be utterly consumed and ultimately consigned to personal and not computer memory. I re-explored my first MMOG experience and then moved on to a few other game experiences, but . . . they all seem like low toner Xerox copies of better games and better days regardless of better graphics.

Day one in Free Realms and I’m co-habituating the world with a freshly minted 11 year old girl. She’s impatient. The game is very graphically rich and for all its generous efforts to make it easy it isn’t always. At times it is it feels like the moment in a T.V. game show when the audience is inaudibly screaming suggestions.

Now, I’m hours behind her, though years ahead. Late night and a laptop and dawn came before my young friend knew, but still without a care. She had run the realm and dipped her toe in whatever allowed a toe to be dipped and even dodged school, but . . .

I’m trying to learn the game, but she’s not all that interested in my learning . . . or her own.  She’s mostly run circles around the realm, but has hardly leveled any of her “jobs”. However, she’s a convenient cheat for me.  

Travel is done by running or teleporting, but you can’t teleport to any of the hubs unless you’ve visited the hub unless you happen t have a party member who is someplace.  Then you can ‘port to them.  So, her explorations saved me a lot of my own which we all know will not reward me in the long run.

Anyway, I’m trying to play with my young friend and we’ve run a few of this and that. There are instances and there are races and games and all of it can be shared. You can play chess and checkers and other things with other folks.  There is an virtual card game where you can try to build a deck and compete and apparently there is a physical counterpart where you can build a non-virtual deck.

Suddenly, my young friend goes offline on my friends list in Free realms. I have to find her on gTalk. She informs me she got bored and went back to Club Penguin

That was the most important lesion of day one for me. A game is a game is a game and graphics don’t’ make it any greater. I’ve often raced her on Club Penguin on the snow sleds and I can race her in Free Realms on the go-karts, but . . . Club Penguin for its lack of graphics isn’t really less fun. Maybe its even more fun.

The amazing thing for me is something I can’t express to anyone who isn’t a momentarily  modern gamer. To play a game that is about 75% to 85% as graphically interesting as the first generation of World of Warcraft simply through the browser . . . no ten or twenty discs . . . no Tuesday updates . . . just . . . through the browser is an awe inspiring thing that is nothing less than what my young friend expects.

The difference in awe and expectations makes me wonder what she is experiencing. She says she loves it and wants to keep playing and has already spent over $20 real dollars on dress-up, but . . . she’s still wandering off to Club Penguin.

Free Realms is hardly free. I’m assuming for a child the free version is like giving them their first taste of crack for free or only letting them have only samples at the ice cream shop (I’m not advocating giving children crack - only criminals and liberals).

Free Realms is cynically designed to give the user  a taste and entice.  If you aren’t a member there are places you can’t go and there are things you can’t do and stuff you can’t buy. Also, you level harder and slower.  Best to ask mom and dad for the $4.99 a month and then the credit card for the “Station Cash”.  Kids, remember to memorize the three digit security code on the back of the card.

There was a time when games were for boys. Now, they all seem to be for girls and metrosexual males. It’s a lot about dress up and such. I bought cowboy boots for $250 station cash.  When you do the math that it cost $20 American money for the $2000 station cash then you realize I paid . .  errr . . . $10 u.s. for $1000 sc . . . so . . . $1 u.s. for . . . $100 sc . . . wait . . . I paid $2.50 real money for virtual cowboy boots that I apparently wear in the masculine style of over the boot so you can’t see them? What was I thinking?

In Free Realms you can’t be killed or kill. The only thing you can do is kill time and credit. You can have multiple jobs. You can play or PLAY!!!! It’s a bit of WOW Light with a next generation MMOG style that caters to just keeping folks engaged and online and a bit of Vegas. It’ll cost you to play, but if you’re smart you can at least make the cost worth it to you.  

I am Bob Grayknight . . . for now.

Next week . . . 10 pre-teens and me and Free Realms . . . what could go wrong?

. . .

BTW . . . in game image and video capture. 

BTWW . . . yes, I will have a survey. No, I won't show it to you.