Thursday, September 16, 2010

MMOs, Story, and... Penny-Arcade?

Story is the big deal these days. It's the fourth pillar that will hold up the Star Wars MMO and set it apart from WoW. It's what WoW lacks, with its static NPCs that ask you and the next person (and everyone after the two of you) where their wife is, somewhere out in the Barrens. It's this holy grail of MMO goodness.

It's this.... cake... that, once achieved, will thrust us as players out of the dark ages, into the holy light, and shower us in its magnificent glory.

I don't want to burst bubbles here, and I hate to use the cliche, but the cake is a lie. Story won't save the genre.

I'm not going to pretend the genre is on a downslope, but I will say that story is not what anyone wanting to dethrone WoW should be focusing on. You want WoW's subscriber base? Christ, half of them can't even spell. What are they going to do with reams of story? If you want them to sit through it, you'd better hide the "Next" button, or not even have one in the first place.

WoW has, over the last five years, been refined down to it's purest crack cocaine form. You don't sip lemonade on the veranda watching the sun dip slowly to the horizon with a nice book in your lap while smoking crack. You don't reminisce over fond memories of smoking crack last Tuesday while a cool breeze blew through your lover's hair. You run out, get some, and smoke it. Then you chase a laser or something. With QuestHelper, GearScore, and the random dungeon finder, I'd say the analogy is pretty clear. We aren't smelling the roses, we're snatching them up and putting them in the glass pipe to see if they'll get us high, too, because we've already smoked all the crack that our weekly RaidID limit will allow us.

To ask us to slow down and read some shit (or listen to some shit being read to us, even) is not where the genre is headed. The genre is headed towards SmashTV co-op with 25 players. To be brutally honest (with ourselves, and each other), that isn't a horrible thing. The genre may have been founded on the fantasies laid forth in books, but it's moved past that. I view WoW as a game above all else. It isn't a book, and it certainly isn't a lifestyle. People might get fussy when I poo-poo on their hobby, or they may point out that I write predominantly WoW posts on my predominantly WoW blog, but around the time my first account got banned, I stopped holding WoW to some ideal. When I play it, I play it to have some fun.

I don't want it to be a moving piece of fiction. I want to slay some internet dragons. I want to jump around on flying platforms shooting fire out of my hands, not be moved to tears at the holy union of Prince Dinglenoob and Princess Whateverlips. I don't give a shit why the dragon is in our kingdom, just get me my sword, dammit, and lets get to slaying it already. To be honest, I would get a lot more excited over seeing the team responsible for Mario Galaxy spearheading a new MMO than some stuffy bookworm that gets all huffy in forum flamewars over minor lore continuity errors.

At the same time, I've read a bunch of the WoW books, and know quite a bit about the general timeline. I know about the guardians of Tirisfal, and how Archimonde put Malorne down with a Camel Clutch that would make the Iron Sheik break out in a cold sweat. Okay, maybe it was closer to Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Dream, but still...

I read these books because WoW was an enjoyable experience in the first place. Clunky games that don't engage me in the first place don't allow me to reach the level where I want to find out more about the backstory. If the controls are bad, and combat is boring, then there goes 98% of the game out the window. Fuck the story, I just won't care enough about it because the game isn't FUN in the first place. Story can help make a game more fun, but it can't make a bad game good. Did I lose anyone there?

So.... why Penny-Arcade in the title?

Penny-Arcade, like WoW, is an avenue for entertainment. It's a comic strip. Like WoW, I used to read Penny-Arcade's quest text (aka Tycho's post), but now I tend to just jump in there and get the fun part done. I raid PA. If it's funny, I get some some lols (loots?), and if it's not, I just move on with my life. Penny-Arcade is in this weird position where they need to be these quasi role models all of a sudden because they have this huge following. So they do PAX and Child's Play and Ubisoft comic books, and a ton of other shit I really don't care about, Tycho's posts get longer and more convoluted, and every day he makes some "word joke" I don't get or care about. Rather than saying he went to the store, he embarks on a constitutional to the local purveyor of fine comestibles. You got a huge vocabulary, I get it. But every day I get closer to just making my shortcut to teh funnies instead of just

Am I a bitch? Sure. Whatever.

Should I buck up and begin to give a shit about their convention, or force myself to read Tycho's little section like I used to force myself to read Family Circus or Marmaduke because they were part of the comics page, and I should read the whole thing? I'm old enough, and comfortable enough with myself, to be honest and say I just don't give a shit and I just want to see teh funnies. I also usually just accept shared quests when they pop up on my screen, rather than poring over every written word. I want to play. My Kindle is by my bed when I feel like reading.

The worst part is when Gabe gets sucked into it, too, and they go off on a weeklong tangent about boyscouts with Shakespearean quatrains instead of words, and they ending throwing rocks at a chicken for the finale. Or they out-clever themselves with Cat and Twixby or whatever. Where's the dick and fart jokes? Where's the Penny-Arcade? They can't make jokes about Dickwolves anymore without concerned mothers writing them upset emails.

Let me wrap this little tirade up by saying I love Penny Arcade. They are one of four treasured internet web comics that I bother to read with any regularity. When they make me laugh they have done well, and I wish them luck in their towering Seattle mansions. I won't ever attend a charity dinner or buy a tee shirt from them, because I like them for what they are, not what they might as well do too since they have a horde of followers.



WoW has a horde, too. I know, I play that side.

But WoW needs to stop pretending that phasing is the answer to the imaginary problems it faces. WoW needs to put on the apron, and focus on cooking more crack for me to smoke. These little pebbles they're shitting out down in Gnomeregan and the Echo Isles are lame. I want a big fucking hubba rock. I personally don't give a shit that Mankirk asks the guy right after me to find his wife. I want to be too busy jumping from out of underneath the claws of the five dragons I'm simultaneously tanking to even see that the next guy is getting the same quest. SHare the quest, who cares, I'll hit okay and we can get to the stabbing.

The Kindle is by my bed for when it's time to read, dammit!



oshin said...

Your right..

Marmaduke is a pile of shit.

Sage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sage said...

Edit: Blogger needs an edit function for posts, srsly.

It's not about a wall of text, Ixo, it's weither that wall of text is worth reading. Yours kinda are. They're unformatted, ranty, and base. Basically word-crack in it's purest form. Kinda like cookies dipped in jam.

I agree that WoW needs to focus on the GAME not the BOOK. But what have they shown us with gameplay? Arenas are fun, raiding is eh.

I really think they need to replace raiding with something far more variable, otherwise, it's just not interesting.

Will star wars beat down WoW? Imagine Mass Effect crack spliced with KotOR. YEAH. Compare that to Cata. Yeah. TOR isn't going to be good because it's got a book, it could be good if it has the game + the book. Which the devs have a lot of experience with.

Cap'n John said...

I do have my shortcut linked to the PA Comic and not their homepage. Sometimes, depending on the comic, I'll click through to the article to see what they have to say about it, but most often I'll read the comic and either have a chuckle or say 'Meh' and close the Tab.

Klepsacovic said...

WoW makes great crack and it's great for people who want to smoke crack. SWTOR might work for people who want something other than crack. Or maybe not. But however well it tells the story, you're right, it's not going to kill WoW with story. Story is for other people.

Hatch said...

1) I, too, want a hubba rock of WoW crack(preferably of the raiding variety). We're coming on one year of ICC, and that pipe is TAPPED OUT. We've been smoking resin (does crack have resin?) for months.

2) I'm one of those people who likes Tycho's news posts. In fact, I often like them more than the comic. It's just my kind of thing. It's important to approach them with your critical thinking intact, but at the same time I greatly enjoyed attending PAX East and I admire what they are doing with Child's Play. I think they deserve some credit for taking that following and doing something awesome with it, instead of cynically exploiting it for cash. I'm sure they make lots of money, but unlike so many companies I have to give my money to, I feel like the PA guys *earn* it.

3) Actually getting back to your point: you're absolutely right that story isn't the savior, we need a good **GAME** to enjoy. I was disappointed, but not remotely surprised, when gameplay reports started coming back that Swotr was just another "go down a hall and pull some stormtroopers while their buddies 5 yards away don't seem to notice you slaughtering them with your autoattacks and actions buttons".

Mass Effect 2 was easily my game of the year. Sure, it had a lot of great story, but I replayed it 5 times because I loved the gameplay. SC2 had pretty much the shittiest/stupidest story ever, but it was so well presented and the gameplay was so good, I still loved it.

Tesh said...

I'm a strong believer in story in games in general, but indeed, not every game needs it. MMOs in particular should be about player story, not dev story. That's facilitated by great gameplay, not voiced cutscenes. (And dynamic worlds, perhaps, but that's a bridge too far.)

The SMGalaxy team MMO really would be an interesting one. Boil it down even further. I don't think we'll see that for a little while yet because of tech constraints... but it's getting closer.

Stabs said...

Story worked pretty well for JK Rowling.

Who cares about stealing WoW's numbers? Numbers are numbers it really doesn't matter where they come from.

A storytelling piece of art that is enjoyed by millions would be a success. If SWTOR is a storytelling piece of art that is enjoyed by millions - and none of them have ever played WoW - it will be a success.

Screw WoW, stay true to your vision, Bioware.

Griddlebone said...

@Stabs: Well, a pertaining lack of deep story worked well for CoD, eh? Besides that, I always wanted the know more about the Potter world rather than how angsty Harry was feeling that day. And I was roughly the age he was meant to be when a book was released.

@Ixo: Eh...I agree but disagree. I think that, yes, the combat and gameplay pillar is "more equal" than all the other pillars. On the other hand, I spent a fuck-ton of time reading WoWiki because I wanted to know more about the world. If TOR can do that in-game, I'll be all over it. Despite being an avid reader, sometimes books just don't cut it. I'd like some of that in my game.

Rich said...

yeah, but you were compelled to read up on the wiki (and I have, too) because the game initially won you over.

Too many games feel like the first hour is spent *hoping it gets better later on down the road*. WoW had me out the gate. A story (at that point, besides the lame little cut scene) hasn't even had a chance to be experienced.

I think the first time I hit charge on my first warrior was when WoW had me. More games need to be focusing on that, and not hoping the walls of text (however wonderfully written) will keep the playerbase entertained, because no one is reading during raids (or pvp), they're PLAYING.

Sage said...

Check out Tycho/Jerry's post. There's your awesome. TOR's goodness depends. It could suck, it could be awesome.

Examples of recent Bioware games: Mass Effect 1 had decent gameplay, 2 kinda changed it in a way that didn't sit well with me, but fixed some other stuff. These will influence TOR, somewhat. If you want to know if the game is going to be good, find out who the lead designers are, and see what they designed before-hand.

Khatib said...

I dunno. I actually played D&D when I was in college, and our group wasn't entirely focused on just rolling dice. There was more to it. Of course, I *NEVER* had the slightest bit of interest in RP in WoW, and I installed the thott addon at launch that gave you instant quest text instead of scrolling it...

But at the same time, I read a LOT of books. I don't know. I already quit WoW because it got way too... meaningless? Too quick reward for little or failed effort... and this just sounds like a further evolution of that to take it the way you're saying to take it.

I get what you're saying about why you want to play games, but when I want THAT feeling, I don't play an MMO. I play Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Starcraft 2, or HALO:Reach. Stuff that's meant to run it's course in around 15-30 minutes every match, and then be restarted or dropped. MMOs are meant to have length and longevity, and story, and meaning, and effort, and sometimes wasted effort that becomes a learning experience.

Although I've argued before and would still that WoW is closer to Diablo 2 multiplayer experience than it is a *TRUE* MMO experience.

And for some reason, I still have your blog in my bookmark toolbar and I still read it, even though it's like all about WoW, lol.

kangax said...

man u havent posted anything .... where r u?

*vlad* said...

We want story the first time around, but after that, we want to skip it. Same with cut-scenes. Skip, skip, skip.
And by story I mean story, and not "I haven't had time to shop. Go fetch me 10 bunnies and 20 carrots for tea from Bob's Market in the Vale of Death"
Bullshit quests don't count as story.

Nikola said...

Hey Ixo, wake up...