Final Fantasy XIV finally launched a dungeon system I was very excited about, so when my friends invited me to partake in it with them I jumped on the chance. The new dungeon was called “The Palace of the Dead”. What made it unique compared to any other dungeon was that it had you progress through randomly generated mazes, and it was divided into floors. Each time you completed one, you progressed to the next floor. To go along with this, it also assigned you back to level 1 and had you level up within the maze. It also replaced your gear and you would improve that while in the dungeon itself.
Upon logging back into the game I had to complete a very short quest that just consisted of “talk to this person, then this person, and then you’re good”. We then all met up in town and prepared for our journey.
They had done this before, but for me it was my first time. A new window displayed prominently on the left hand side of my screen in a retro format. I enjoyed the little sprite that represented my Paladin class. I also noted fields for a weapon and armor. My sword and shield were not representing by a blue glow, as were my comrades weapons. I was a bit disappointed with this. I was expecting to enter Terminator style, coming through a worm-hole in nothing but my undies and having to acquire gear from within. This was not the case as the armor you had on remains on display. As you open chests they simply have a chance to increase the level of your weapon or armor, but aside from that don’t seem to do anything significant. There are apparently rewards for hitting +30/+30 and higher tiers, but I was far from that.
The floors themselves were a bit of a yawn to be honest. The early ones are quite small, and the enemies are your standard fair. I’m not sure if it was me tired of the playstyle or the dungeon itself. FFXIV does have a slightly slower than normal combat style. The cooldowns are just fractions of a second longer than most other MMOs, which gives it a monotonous feel after only a short while. I was expecting to have to scavenge for gear, evaluate upgrades, and ration potions. Instead, we were able to steamroll the first set of floors (they are cut up into section of 10) within 20 minutes. It was in a maze format, and you had to first activate a totem like device before going back to the teleportation, but again I was expecting something a bit more significant here. It was arranged in blocks, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as they are interesting. Cruma Tower from Lineage 2 was largely based around a grid, but it was grand and large and each floor felt like an adventure. Palace of the Dead just set you on a race to get through it, as spurred on by the 60 minute time limit.
On the 10th floor of each tier (floor 10, 20, 30 are the 3 stages we completed) there was a boss. Wonderfully animated and interesting, bosses are a fun aspect of FFXIV. These also were just the lower level bosses, so I won’t be too critical here. There also seems to be a little story with the Palace of the Dead, as each time you enter, and then finish a section, there appears to be a witch like character watching you.
All in all, I was disappointed… It was not the experience I was expecting. Perhaps I misunderstood the articles describing the upcoming system. Or maybe my expectations were just too high. I was looking for a fun and unique dungeon, and what was delivered was the same old “run through as quickly as possible and bash the boss” formula. Bummer.
Black Desert Online launched on March 3rd, 2016. It was developed by Pearl Abyss and originally launched in Korea in 2014. It was published by Daum Games for North America and Europe. It uses the buy-to-play model, and sells in-game cosmetic upgrades and costumes.
BDO was a title I was immensely excited for, and once again went and purchased a top tier founders package that granted me a three day head start. In anticipation of launch, I had joined a guild that I knew would be making a concentrated effort at being the best on the server. I already reflected upon the character creation in another post on the site which can be found here, so I’ll dive straight into the gameplay. I will however reiterate one unique aspect of BDO. Classes are gender locked.
First and foremost, no MMO comes close to the graphics and beauty of this world. The detail on the avatars, the lighting and shading. It’s simply amazing, and likewise requires a high-end computer to manage the load. The storyline of the game has you dealing with a mysterious black spirit who seems linked to your soul in some way. Honestly, I didn’t follow the story all that well for two reasons. Firstly, it’s not that interesting. Secondly, I was in a very hardcore guild, and didn’t have the luxury of taking my time. But mainly, it wasn’t that interesting.
These “Black Spirit Quests” guide you from area to area, unlocking new powers along the way while guiding you to areas that have their own quests. Which brings us to our second unique aspect. Quests don’t grant XP. Yup, you heard me right. Instead quests give items, money, Contribution Points, and Combat Points. We all know what items and money do, but it’s the contribution Points and Combat Points that bring us to the third unique aspect, progression.
Combat Points are more straightforward, so we’ll start there. You earn combat points and use them to level up certain skills. You don’t have enough to develop all skills, so you have to pick and choose based on your play style (which matters due to this being action based combat). Contribution Points allow you to purchase housing, activate nodes, and probably a few other things. Honestly I didn’t delve too much into this, but they are crucial for a full experience as housing also serves as crafting stations, and you have to rely on workers to gather and craft materials. If you want to build a trading empire, you absolutely must rely on this. Combat points are based on individual character, however Contribution points are available among all your characters, and all of their quests contribute to that total.
So with that out of the way, let’s move on to the game play and combat. This is where the game goes from a great shining example of an MMO to blinding light. The combat is fast, fluid, reactionary, and simply amazing. You can take on scores of enemies or a single one and actually enjoy it. Since you gain no XP through quests, this means you HAVE to grind. The good news is, you will ENJOY it. Initially you are unable to track the health of mobs, and simply have to go off their health bar changing colors. The more you fight them, the more you “learn” about them, and eventually you are able to see their health drop appropriately. This adds a refreshing dynamic to battling new enemies. Your range of skills is also rather diverse, and you can activate them and combos using your keys in a certain combination, so you don’t have to rely on pressing quick keys. The game actually doesn’t have a max level, though it becomes exponentially more difficult to increase your level once you hit the “soft cap”. At launch this was level 50. Level 55 could be obtained through countless hours grinding to those most dedicated, but to go beyond that would be futile.
To coincide with level, we of course have to talk about gear. Gear is extremely straight forward in BDO. Counting the expansion that released a month after the game launched, there may have only been a dozen or so sets of gear. These would be available on drops from mobs, or easily picked up in the auction house. The weapons were a bit more involved as you had to gain reputation with the vendor through a mini-game. Or, pay a bit extra to pick them up on the auction house as well. Note: Several Expansions have launched since my playtime, and now Bosses drop unique gear, so it could be a bit more in-depth. This made the gear system feel a bit akin to Lineage 2, were there were only a few sets that any class could wear, but the perks only benefited certain classes. The more involved aspect of gear is enchanting it. This is done with weapon and armor stones that you get for completing quests, and can be obtained as drops. Enchanting armor is safe to +5, weapons to +7. If you fail enchanting beyond this, you lose durability in your armor that can only be restored by combining it with another of the same type. The higher the enchant level, the greater chance it will fail. Every time you fail, your chances for success on your NEXT enchant go up. This creates a whole system of strategy in regard to enchanting your gear, as most people shoot for +15.
Speaking of auction houses, they are based on cities, and only that city. When you list items, they can only be viewed in that city, and when the item sells, the money can only be obtained in that city. So you gotta know the markets and take a walk if you want to collect. The same goes for your warehouse. No more “magical” warehouses that you can access all of your stuff even while on a different planet. If you want it, you have to go get it. There is also no quick travel in this game. If you want to get somewhere, you have to go by foot or mount (which are horses, which can level up, be tamed, and bred!). This might sound dreadful, especially once you learn that going across the map can take 20 minutes or more. However, BDO has yet another unique aspect. You can “auto-travel”. Simply right click your destination on the world map, hit T, and you’re character will automatically start running to that location! For the most part this was great, as you could just go off an do other things, like when on a flight path in World of Warcraft. It also kept player’s avatars active in the world… meaning they were still vulnerable to being killed.
PVP Is another big factor of BDO. The combat is intense and designed from the ground up to accommodate this. Castle sieges and node (resource) points only launched yesterday, but guilds had been preparing for them for months via PVP arenas and guild wars. The guild I was in held weekly practices in preparations for large scale battles. They also held training sessions for the individual classes as well.
And this is where we get more into my experience with the game. I had a bad time. Though no fault of the game. I was in a hardcore guild with great ambitions that instantly jumped to the top of the server ranks (Oh yeah, by the way, the server ranks not only guilds, but professions, and tons of other measurements such as wealth in active leader boards). Many of them played nearly non-stop. I was trying my best and was keeping pace, but it was eating up every spare minute I had. Between a full time job, graduate coursework, and enjoying the outdoors, I had a very busy schedule, and this guild made this game too demanding. I formally withdrew from the guild after a month. I then started another character and progressed at an easier pace, actually paying attention to the story this time (it still wasn’t interesting). Having a higher level character, I could simply buy and enchant all my lower character’s gear (there are no level requirements for gear). This made my character virtually untouchable, which was fun, alas I never progressed very far. This game’s farming system wasn’t as fun as ArcheAge, and the game actually prevented players from trading!!! This was done to combat gold sellers, and hurt player interactions a bit. However, the amount of grinding had me for the first time in years messaging other players, asking random people to team up. I was over joyed to have to resort to this, a tactic long missed with games that make it too easy to solo everything.
The player housing was also interesting. Players could buy homes in cities. Much like the “housing” feature in Final Fantasy 14 (in which you owned a room), you simply selected to enter yours or another at the door, and then it would open and feature that selected players contents within the home. A fair compromise to a system life Rift that has it all instanced, and a system that ArcheAge that has it open world, yet obviously limited land available. You could also buy homes in remote hamlets and there were even random tree forts.
I will even go so far to admit that the player housing was a better feature than ArcheAge’s version, however, ArcheAge had better player interaction I do believe. The limited trade system between players was a huge disappointment. In ArcheAge I could run along alone, farming, and then selling my goods to players directly OR through the auction house, and then go home and feel accomplished. In BDO, I felt alone in this regard, as I could only deal with NPCs. The only time I needed other players was when I was doing PVE or PvP, which again was nice, but I wanted a bit more… Which is odd, because BDO’s biggest weakness is the sheer volume of activities you can do! I mentioned things in passing like horse taming, and completely omitted things like Fishing, alchemy, crafting, trade runs, and much more. It’s a bit overwhelming, and can make it difficult to find what actually is the most fun for you. For me I thought it would be PvP, but even that proved to be a challenge as the intensity takes some real practice and people are very serious about it. I was never very good at fighting games sadly. I do however much prefer combat that relies on skill and reacting to your opponent, so I hope it was just a matter of inexperience. As I said when it came to PvE, it was simply fantastic.
Since my time playing BDO, several expansions have launched for free, adding several new classes as well. Writing this article has gotten me a bit excited, and a new expansion and Ninja class launch on July 20th, so I may just dive back in and check it out a bit. All in all though, I highly recommend giving BDO a try. With a group of 2 to 3 friends, it would be an absolute blast as you all get lost in the combat. If you’ve played TERA and enjoyed it, you will find BDO far superior.
So. We all have those relationships we form just to get by… Ya know, the filler in-between the main story quests. As my time with the MMOs I’m about to list was always brief, I’m including them all under one post, in the order that I played them (or at least think I did). As with my World of Warcraft post I acknowledged there were MMOs in-between my stints with WoW, its slightly out of chronological order in regards to World of Warcraft, but they all happened before the next main MMO for me which was Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Really the game was quite amazing. It was everything I wanted. There were a few hiccups along the way though. The first identified was the lack of land for players. This one couldn’t possibly be avoided as there was bound to be more players than there was land, but as I told you I had 7 pieces of 16×16 plots while most players had none. Some players had 20+ pieces of land. The problem was that the taxes didn’t scale correctly. And worse yet, land-bots would automatically grab land that became available through demolition (to own land you had to pay taxes. To pay taxes, you had to be a subscriber, and if you didn’t pay them for 2 weeks, the land was cleared and available for use again). These bots claimed the land fast than any human player could click. So “Land Barons” were a real thing. They would sell this land for high amounts of gold. The problem was that inflation kept growing so the prices were always out of reach of the players without land. Without land, they couldn’t generate gold fast enough to buy land. These cheaters destroyed the land economy and ruined the game for many players, and Trion didn’t do a thing about it. These were issues present in the Korean release, and well known, and yet Trion didn’t bother to address it.
Bots playing the game and gold selling were also rampant. But many games have this issue. As a free to play game, it was hard to stop them, but only a minor annoyance. It was when they were used to such things as land grabbing that it was an issue.
Both of these issues only affected players who could actually get into the game though. For the first several weeks, the servers were packed full. Some players experiencing 7 hour long queues to simply get into the game. Players who subscribed were put in the “fast lane”, but even they saw upwards of 2 hour wait times. This lead players to use methods to stay logged in. Again, using bugs that were present and known from the Korean version, players would hit hostile invulnerable targets to stay logged in, or lock down a key on their keyboard. If a player sat in the pews in the court house, the game was unable to kick them. This became a well-known one and many players (myself included) would camp alts there when we were done for the day, one reason to avoid queues, the second reason to keep accruing labor points at the accelerated rate (10 labor per 5 minutes instead of 5 labor per 5 minutes). This aided us players who exploited this dramatically, and I always used two accounts, so doubly so!
The whole labor system was a bit of a debacle too. The concept made sense, however Trion’s cash shop allowed players to purchase labor potions, which provided free labor points. Granted there was a cooldown on them, but a player could gain a substantial advantage over a short time by utilizing them. As also mentioned, it made it so players didn’t want to log out, and free players were only able to accrue labor points while logged into the game. Them accruing points at a reduced rate made sense, but none while offline seemed a bit hard pressed when it’s crucial for doing all of the things “fun” in the game. Not only that, but free players only had a pool of 1000 labor points, whereas subscribers had 5000.
There is another feature of ArcheAge that I haven’t mentioned yet. Why would I save a feature for the “issues” section? Well, because, exactly that. This “feature” had “issues”. ArcheAge required you to be a patron (subscriber) to have many benefits including the labor system and land ownership (you had to be a patron to pay taxes, which is required to keep land). ArcheAge featured tokens you could purchase and trade to players in the game. Players could use these tokens to purchase subscription. My first 3 months of ArcheAge, for both my main and alternate accounts were paid for with these tokens, I would farm and do trade runs to make my income. At first I made plenty to afford my monthly subscription and progress my character, but the price of the tokens quickly inflated to where I was logging on to make enough money to simply by another month. This is ultimately what led to my disinterest in the game. Which was part of a greater problem with the game and people like me. Yes, I could pay the $15 a month and not have to worry about getting these tokens, but the game had a method where I could earn my subscription and didn’t have to pay. If I don’t have to pay, then I don’t want to pay. And many of us elected not to. I will address this in another post I do believe about MMOs at large.
The other big problem with ArcheAge, was Trion. They were simply horrible about the launch and the game in general. They are merely the publishers in this country, not the game developers. And they treated the game, and the player population, like they just didn’t care. Bugs widely known in the Korean and Russian versions were left in the code, and then Trion acted all surprised when they occurred. They took weeks to resolve issues, and often went back on their word about features, downtimes, and various things like that. During downtimes or crashes the server would be wondering whats going on, only to be ignore by the community manager, and Trion all along acting like they are on top of everything. They developed the cash shop in a manner to gouge players, and reward buy to play practices when promising not to do so. They clearly valued profits over player satisfaction. They tried to implement fixes to the economy without properly testing them, fundamentally destroying it at times when they introduced an item that had a high chance to grant thunderstruck trees (a required item for wagons and other important items), that was only accessible through the cash shop. Hackers, cheaters, and exploiters ran rampant and Trion did nothing. Land hacks and land abuse using known issues from Korean and Russian launches destroyed land ownership for many, Trion let it happen. Trion simply didn’t care, and now I don’t care to touch any Trion product again. And that’s sad, because I love what this game stood for.
Between my stints of World of Warcraft, I had endeavored to explore two MMOs as they were released, both promising unique and innovative features. The first of the two was Age of Conan. Originally titled Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, the game launched in May 2008. It was developed and published by Funcom, and required the purchase of the game and a monthly subscription. Based on the Age of Conan lore, the game looked to make full use of its source material and produce something graphically violent yet sexually arousing.
Something actually unique (besides the games lack of censorship) the game featured was directional combat. While in combat with enemies, you could aim your attacks either to one side, or to their head. Your targets defense could change to favor one area, and it would be up to you to adjust your attacks accordingly for optimal damage. Combined with the gore content, you could selectively decapitate enemies or chop their limbs off. This was called their “Real-Combat” system.
Another major feature of the game was player cities and sieges. Players had the ability to create their own cities, and then they could be sieged by other players or NPC factions.
I pre-ordered the collectors edition of Age of Conan and was very excited about its release. At launch, I created a guild and went into it with several of my real life friends from our World of Warcraft guild. Very enthusiastic about a “fresh” MMO experience, we quickly devoured the content and reached level 30. It was here that we came to a harsh realization- The game wasn’t finished. The higher level game content simply hadn’t been implemented yet. We came across barren, open fields. We weren’t the only players upset about this, and Age of Conan’s “successful” lunch of more than 700,000 users quickly plummeted to around 200,000. While we had enjoyed the story progression, the unique combat, the gorgeous graphics, and the ‘mature’ tone of the game, a lack of high level and end game content was not something we could forgive. We joined that mass exodus of nearly 500,000 players and never turned back.
In June 2011, Age of Conan became free-to-play and became known as Age of Conan: Unchained. It had had an expansion, Rise of the God Slayer released prior to this, but adopted the free-to-play model despite this. I hope to revisit it in a segment of A Day in the Life of an MMO and see how the world has evolved. (I heard they removed nudity… bummer).
I haven’t done a post on my site for quite some time. Been busy with classes and work. I am taking a moment to write today however because I am progressing with my thesis of highlighting the limitations of using virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft for research because they follow a “theme-park” layout, and speaking to the value of “sand-park” worlds that allow players a much greater degree of freedom and interactions with one another. One upcoming title I will be using extensively will be ArcheAge, developed by Korean based XLGames and being published here in the US by Trion.
This game simply has a stunning amount of activities you can participate in. The class system is based on selecting 3 different classes (at lvl 1, 5, and 10) from a large variety that can result in the combination of well over 100 different classes. There is 15 professions, two unique ones being Husbandry (where you raise mounts from babies) and Composer (you actually compose music). In fact, you can actually progress from lvl 1 through 50 by merely gathering and crafting and progressing professions. Beyond that, there is open-world housing, farming, building ships, being a pirate, conducting trade routes, castle building, sieges, and so much more. You are able to steal from not only enemy factions, but your own faction as well! This leaves behind clues which other players can then discover and submit a report. Obtain to many, and you are sent to trial! The Jury consisting of other real players! Not only do mounts and ships (and steam-punkish vehicles even) serve as transportation, but there are also hand gliders that you use to get from place to place. And These gliders, your ships sails, your homes, and even your avatar are highly customizable! You can set your own images for your sails, there’s a huge variety of unique mounts and hand glider designs, everything within your home can be hand placed, and a lot of them are actually intractable and have effects! I can’t even begin to describe my excitement, and I haven’t even grazed the surface of the features.
There is a wonderful article available here that is talks about first impressions of ArcheAge shown this week. There is also a great Trion livestream by the community manager and others available that I would highly recommend viewing.
Perhaps most importantly to mention (assuming you didn’t bother to read hte article or watch the video) this game will be FREE TO PLAY! So there is no excuse not to try it! And it will be launching 2014! I am looking forward to not only experiencing the virtual world, but to see if it can live up to my research expectations.
Anthropologists have only recently dived into the world of the “digital”, and there is still resistance to the merit of the work. Miller and Horst (2012) define “digital” as “all that can be ultimately reduced to binary code but which produces a further proliferation of particularity and difference”. I believe Miller and Horst (2012) also provide a good explanation of why anthropologists can learn from the digital- “The digital should and can be a highly effective means for reflecting upon what it means to be human, the ultimate task of anthropology”.
Possible Research Topics in Anthropology:
The Computer Games and Virtual Worlds Workshop Report suggest many potential areas for future research:
•investigating how CGVW play affects group interactions and rewards when conducting in-game activities.
• examining how CGVW play reproduces existing hierarchies of power through visual representations as well as player behavior in “locking” out players perceived as undesirable.
• drawing upon player accounts of game play meaning to see how immersion affects emotional reactions to stress.
In regard to “Culture of Commitment” they recommend questions such as:
• How do users experience a transition from novice-ness to “serious leisure” (e.g., a play career trajectory)?
• How do social practice and organization within CGVWs develop and reflect cultures of commitment?
• How are CGVWs increasingly the sites for compensated labor?
• What new forms of peer-learning and knowledge-sharing practices are emerging from CGVW cultures?
• Under what conditions and situations does game-based play become work, and similarly when and how does work of using virtual worlds become play?
In regard to “Practices and Platform”:
• How do players engage CGVWs offline, or engage alternative reality games played across physically located venues as well as on the computer?
• Who is playing these games? Are there differences in the gaming communities and identities of players who chose to play these games? What do any potential differences indicate about the play and practices in these CGVWs?
• What impacts do these platforms for play have on networked culture, the home, and daily life for players?
• What are the differences in activity between game-based and socially-based online spaces?
• How do players from different cultures engage with the same game?
• How does game play emerge or be guided to become a professional endeavor and line of work for highly committed game players?
So with all that, what am I doing?
Well, I pondered over this list again and again trying to decide what the best avenue of research would be. In my Undergrad project I looked at Avatar’s people created within the virtual worlds of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2. I had selected these worlds because they offered very unique features geared towards creating avatars that pretty much equated to giving your avatars actual personalities. These were settings or actions you did with your character, independent of merely acting it out. I identified this as an emerging trend focused around getting users more attached with their avatars and allowing greater identification within virtual worlds. I chose both worlds due to circumstance, not because that was how the research plan was laid out. As a result, I also touched upon migration between virtual worlds. These virtual worlds are not only constantly being updated, but have to face out with more and more virtual worlds being released by different publishers offering more features, and some of them are actually even unique.
In the IVECG (Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games (formerly CGVW)), there was a seminar video titled “Ethnography in Computer Games and Virtual Worlds”. In the end a question is posed that I very much enjoyed because I too have seen it as an issue with virtual worlds. The question basically put forward the idea that these virtual worlds are very objective/quest driven and don’t leave as much room for original human interactions within these worlds. While this would be very easy to negate in regard to Second Life, I pose it is very applicable to virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft. The respondents shrug it off by explaining that what they are looking at are the interactions between players and their choices which are not defined by the game… I however disagree. Yes, players do have a bit of freedom, but they are still largely constrained by the parameters of these digital worlds. Luckily a new wave of virtual worlds are approaching this that can aid me in exploring what I believe will give us better means to address many of these research questions in a more “natural human” setting, that is, one less constrained by the parameters of the virtual world and more open to human choice and action.
These new virtual worlds coming out are being referred to as “Sandbox”. While some have existed, the newer ones are coming out with a lot more advertising power behind them, and making available many more features to their users. This sets them apart from virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft that are now labeled as “Theme-park” virtual worlds. Whereas theme-park virtual worlds set up the parameters and guide players through a certain path through the game, setting up the activities and goals, sandbox virtual worlds are making it all dependant on the player. The Players are able to undertake such activities as building cities, homes, shops, crafting all their own gear, and creating a player driven economy. Players have the option to help one another or kill one another without only being allowed to kill people assigned to an opposing faction (like World of Warcraft, which even prevents you from communicating with the opposing faction). Keeping it brief, I believe what will result from these interactions is a much more “human” experience.
So that is what I want my research to focus on. While we are at the cusp of this transition of “theme-park” virtual worlds to “sandbox” virtual worlds, I want to identify Why players are interested in such virtual worlds (As they must be since many developers are in the midst of producing them), What these new virtual worlds can show us over the old ones, and then upon their release see if they actually do offer a more “human” experience.
In my more immediate work, I intend to look at the “Commodification of Play” in virtual worlds, and explore how virtual economies shape users experiences both online, and offline through the selling of virtual goods for actual currency. I also intend to analyze how religion is portrayed in virtual worlds, introducing a massive audience to certain concepts and ideals that are actually quite different from their original meanings (such as the use of “Mana”), and possibly analyzing this as positive or harmful.