Social gaming

Bhagpuss had a lengthy and rather poetic post on the subject of social gaming this week.

I still read alone but playing MMOs broke offline games for me. Maybe forever.

He talks about the social element of gaming at length and this is certainly something I can identify with. Even before I started playing MMORPGs, gaming for me had become a mainly social activity. The big computer RPGs of the late 1990s and early 2000s such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate and Diablo had LAN-multiplayer options – I played them duo or occasionally with friends connected remotely (where dial-up Internet limitations permitted). That deeply affected my approach to the genre, meaning that I barely touched other RPGs that many view as classics: the Elder Scrolls games, Planescape:Torment or the Dragon Age series. I didn’t want to experience these fantastic worlds alone anymore.

A lonely planet without friends by your side..

A planet can be lonely without friends by your side..

I never tried Ultima Online or Everquest; Bhagpuss’ post refers to Everquest a few times and that early MMORPG experience of players wanting and needing to play together often. My early experience of MMORPGs was no doubt different, I started in World of Warcraft in 2007 – there were challenges worthy of a group but there was little forced grouping going on at least during leveling. However I was in a small, close-knit guild for most of my time in the game and when we played, we played together regardless of need or progression. We level characters in two’s and three’s and spent most of our time running  dungeons whenever we had a mix of characters that would fit. Playing a MMORPG solo didn’t really occur to me until I branched out and tried other games.

Stories worthy of a shared experience

Stories worthy of a shared playthrough

After years of leveling characters solo in such games, I’m coming back full circle as I now play solo less often. The benefits are not just the obvious – we can, of course, chat to discuss tactics or how we might unravel a particular puzzle. But beyond that playing in a  small group adds other more subtle nuances to MMO gaming, for instance the multi-player aspect to SWTOR’s conversation system (randomisation of whose conversation choice to follow). I actually miss this now when playing SWTOR solo as it made the conversations seem more dynamic somehow. In The Secret World at the moment in Tokyo we’re making much quicker progress than we would have solo given the sudden ramp up in difficulty of even the lowliest of monsters – having a ‘trinity’ trio is rather valuable now as it allows us to explore the zone with relative freedom, there’s no need for us to try to sneak past monsters in a game where no character can actually use stealth.

So most of my gaming time is for duo or trio play now. That’s spread across multiple MMOs so it makes for somewhat sporadic “progress” from a character level or story perspective but true to my gaming past I’d rather share these experiences with others whenever possible.

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5 Responses to Social gaming

  1. zaphod6502 says:

    Interesting article. I’ve gone the exact opposite path. Most of my guilds and online friends left the MMORPG genre and are now focused on multiplayer games like WoT, WoWS, PS2, etc. For me personally I have returned to the world of rich single player CRPG’s of which The Witcher III is the latest and greatest example of this genre.

    I still drag out WoW for a month or so each time Blizz releases an expansion but this is more a nostalgic nod to my 6 years of hardcore raiding in that game. I have fond memories of LOTRO, TSW, and Guild Wars 2 but have no intention of returning as there is no point playing MMORPG’s singleplayer and that is all that I would really be doing.

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  3. Sylow says:

    I very much agree on the article: multiplayer games are generally more “fun”. Even when sometimes playing them solo, the mere knowledge that other people are in the game somehow make a huge difference to me and some games (e.g. GW2) i very much experience as two-player game. (Albeit with plenty of human background actors in some zones. )

    Once a while i stumble across a single-player game which attracts me so much that i clear time for them in my gaming schedule (e.g. Shadowrun Returns, Wasteland 2), but usually when i am gaming and my girl doesn’t like to play (she has obscure hobbies like knitting or crafting! ) i rather spend the time with people of my Cabal than going for a single-player game. (That being said, somebody got some pointers how to make Elite Dangerous attractive for a girl who is not interested in space-games? *g* )

    • Telwyn says:

      What do you think of SR? I bought the two current Shadowrun games in a recent Steam sale but I’ve only really peeked into them both so far.

      • Sylow says:

        TL/DR:
        They are allright, story is fine (although a bit overcrowded in the second part), but the different career significally lack balancing.

        After that, here is the wall of text, which i have to start this with one big disclaimer: my experience with the first campaign was before they did a huge rebalancing pass on the game. I then also played around with some free stories from the community and noticed that a lot of balancing, incudling power of the weapons and so on, is being done inside the mission. So while i experienced different balancing in the second campaign, i have no idea how much of this difference also is true for the first one. Thus your experience by now can be noticeably different. That being said, i personally would cathegorize both Shadowrun games as well as Wasteland 2 as isometric tactics games with some story.

        On the “look and feel” of the Shadowrun game, indeed the isometric perspective and also the controls feel a bit outdated, but they don’t break the game. You don’t have tripple-A quality, but as i did not expect that and as the game has it’s very own charm to make up for it, i couldn’t blame it, either. Within the scope of the game and the budget and disregarding possibly still existing (i can’t tell) balancing problems, they delivered a good environment in which to play their stories.

        Now into more detail for both parts of Shadowrun:

        The “Dead Man’s Switch” story is fairly consistent. For an old time Shadowrun player like me, there was no real surprise in it. I play Shadowrun (pen and paper) since over 20 years and the Universal Brotherhood was mentioned right on the first map, so i knew what would be coming. I can’t blame the game for this, though. The games story plays at the same time, but on a different area then the big SR books and missions around the Universal Brotherhood. They took some liberties (anti-ghost shotgun) which don’t really fit the lore, but were necessary due to game mechanics. Thus for somebody new to Shadowrun, it brings one of the biggest and most well known stories of the franchise, for somebody older it adds some fluff with only limited breaking of the lore.

        In terms of gameplay, i went through this story with an orcish physical adept and was only semi-happy about it. I can understand that they wanted the activation of powers instead of them being passive, for balancing reasons, but the way there were done was cumbersome. This way the game forced me to also branch into other combat paths and i still invested into some social abilities. This game me a versatile character of mediocre combat power, which luckily the balancing at that time allowed. Unfortunatly a vocal part of the community screamed that the game was too easy, so from what i read, it was “rebalanced” to be much more challenging. Up to some degree i understand it, a friend of mine played this story with a street samurai and he found it to be so lacking in challenge that he was about to quit of boredom. For comparison he also let me play the last fight on his computer with his character and unfortunately i had the same experience: quickly and easily killing stuff to the left and right without worries, in the very last fight. Thus the huge balancing pass clearly was necessary, but while i don’t know what they did, based on the second story (Dragonfall, see further down), i have the suspicions that they overshot the target.

        This leads me to the second part, “Dragonfall”. Unlike at the first part, the story wasn’t all obvious to me right from the start of the game. My only problem with it is, that they tried to pack in too much, some of it not really fitting. Without spoilering too much, in Dragonfall a big part is about a dead and an alive dragon, the mystery of how the dead dragon was killed, the military and scientists behind it, and also some more. There are some really unlikely coicidences in how the campaign runs, which i credit mostly to ressource problems. (Without the coicidences they would’ve had to create several more maps. ) Would they have limited themselves to that, i would’ve utterly loved the story and i really appreciated that the player has to make some decissions which are not an easy “right or wrong” but have meaning on different layers and with moral implications.

        Unfortunately they for some strange reasons also had to mix in additional components, including an AI (complete with a cult following it), which were absolutely unnecessary for the story. This doesn’t completely break it, but it leaves a bit of a bad taste.

        With that i have to come to the other problem i had with this: i started out as a human shaman. At the start it played nice and the abilities were fun. Unfortunately this story apparently was balanced for the street samurai, making me play the “ultra hard” version. (My friend again played it as street samurai and said he found it “nicely challenging”. ) Even against spirits and elementals i found that the street samurai hireling was more effective than my mage, which was quite a letdown. Also with the mage, one evil quirk of the AI became very apparent: the players character is the primary target. Even when i was aware of a big fight, put my hirelings next to the door, hid my character around the corner and then let one of the hirelings open the door, the boss would run past the hirelings and head for my character. My only chance there was that the hirelings killed him before he got my character into line of sight, as my weakling shaman was not made for tanking damage, which forced me to repeat some fights several times and hope that the dice would roll in my favour. Not what i consider perfect fun.

        So in terms of balance, either part of the Shadowrun Returns games is lacking for me. The first one was balanced for sound characters but was too easy for street samurais and characters which were invested almost solely in combat abilities. The second one was made to be a good game for this kind of players, making it less fun for anybody not playing one of the “better” combat coices. (My shaman was mostly built for power, but being a shaman it wasn’t built tanky enough. )

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