Blogged Out: 'Dead Cows'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of developer blogging, including fresh opinions on game genres, the unspoken etiquette of online gaming, the default state of grumbling, and nothing less than de
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: MMOs aplenty, moaning gamers. Online Cows Ever reliable Raph has linked to a new MMO discussion blog, Virtual Cultures. The top story this week is more news from IMGDC, where Richard Bartle (who was a keynote speaker) chaired a round table about the 'sacred cows' of the MMO world. "Richard Bartle led a very lively and heated roundtable (really, they were all lively and heated) on slaughtering sacred cows of MMOG design. I thought the title was ironic, especially in light of the fact that a large part of the conversation was devoted to different approaches to player death. Richard expressed his disdain for games where players die and are respawned repeatedly. Other participants talked about strategies that entailed “perma-death.” I finally chimed in that I thought “death” was the biggest sacred cow of all. While no-one seemed to disagree with this, they all went back to talking about death variations... it’s amazing to me how ingrained this aspect of game mechanics is. With my students I prohibit killing because I think it’s an overused metaphor for failure or re-start. Are there other metaphors we can use? Who knows, but it seems few are willing to try."" This discussion of death is worth considering, especially as it highlights a number of new approaches to the idea that MMOs are currently trying. I've always thought that persistence requires 'immortal' avatars, but I'd certainly like to see MMOs make death a bigger issue. Dying in WoW, for example, seems ludicrously easy, and barely punished, which makes 'exploratory' death far too easy to countenance. On Building Meanwhile over on the blog of Costik the Manifestoed One discusses a pet topic of my own - game genres. Costik has dug up a new one (via Intelligent Artifice) from Germany, Aufbaustrategiespiele. Which Costik explains is "an RTS with the focus on making the economy function rather than on combat," literally, "on-building strategy game". The news comes that Ubi have bought Sunflowers, Germany's specialist in the genre and the founders of the Anno series. The PC has a huge user-base in Germany and these PC-only titles have made quite a name for themselves in the central European country where violent games are tightly regulated. The most recent Aufbaustrategiespiele of note was The Guild 2, which, shockingly, actually had some scrapping in. Passionate Detachment I particularly enjoyed this recent post on Terranova by Florence Chee, who talks about the attitude needed to write academically about games. "Over the years I had come to think myself rather good at what I call passionate detachment," says Chee. "Passion is what drives me to pursue the tough questions, but detachment is what needs to occur in order to convert things like intense passionate participation into clear, compelling, ethnographic writing. It has taken me until now to truly be able to convert one particular experience into anything resembling articulate." Chee goes on to relate a story of emotional response to events within a game that I think all online gamers will be able to relate to. I know I've suffered similar humiliations time and again, especially when stumbling awkwardly into the unspoken etiquette of online gaming. Chee, it seems, managed to loot a rare item on a Warcraft raid, unfairly (and unwittingly) stealing it from the other players. "I am not sure how I can convey the feeling of utter frustration and humiliation I felt at that moment. They ALL knew who I was because of my screen name and supposed good affiliation with a guild. This was supposed to be my "coming out party" of sorts. My first real participation in a large, unfamiliar group as a level 60 character. It was supposed to be a no brainer. Instead, I watched as everyone else killed the Boss and fulfilled their quests without me. I was convinced I would be blacklisted thereafter. It was a prominent enough screw up. Hence, the tiredness on top of everything allowed the sobbing to begin. These were actual people who were pissed off at me (along with the friend who first invited me), and actual people who would remember that I was an, "idiot."" Which sort of brings us back to that first post about persistence and character death... Flawed Gamers Over at Planet Cerulean there's a fun post about the tendency of game designers to exhibit a kind of group cynicism towards gaming. "I noticed in particular that if you gather 3 or more game developers in a room conversation often devolve into pointing at the game's flaws. The mindset can sink in so severely that it becomes impossible to spot the game's redeeming qualities when they come up." Reading this I wondered whether this is actually a phenomenon related to being games designers, or whether it's actually true of almost all mature gamers. Have we been conditioned into criticism by year after year of flawed games? I can't recall the last time my chums sat down at a console without some grumbling and deconstruction of whatever we were playing. If you'd been taking minutes from the last beer-and-PS2 evening you'd think that Katamari was unplayable due to pop-up dialogue, and that Shadow Of The Colossus was a grotesquely unfair repetitious puzzle game with an impregnably awful UI... We really should focus on the positive. And that means I'm off to play Earth Defence Force 2017. It's the best game this year, you know. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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