Purism and Paragon

Lately, I’ve realized us gaming purists are a weird bunch.  We’ve played so many games that we come to realize what we truly enjoy about them is neither the pretty graphics nor the company we keep but rather the core game mechanic itself, and through practice alone we can recognize it when we sense it.

It’s like going to a wine and cheese festival and meeting people who find apparently disgustingly moldy cheese and rancid wine to be appealing because, after decades of consumption, they’ve found there’s a certain aspect about these unlikely sources that embodies what being a true wine and cheese enthusiast is.  Yet, the average philistine would be content with a bottle of supermarket red.

So I can forgive you for not understanding most of what I rattle on about on this Blog.  It’s very much a gaming purist ranting at world where supermarket red sells much better than rancid wine.

For me, World of Warcraft (the current MMORPG market heavyweight) was always the supermarket red.  It’s serviceable enough, but hardly palatable to one with the passion for gaming.

It’s why I didn’t stick with the game more than four weeks – I had savored all there was left worth of it by then.  I had assumed that a lot of players would feel the same way and the game would soon dry up and blow away because, after EverQuest, there would be a lot more gaming purists than there was before.

I learned that one should never underestimate the power of the bandwagon effect when it comes to the popularity-based spectacle (that a MMORPG, at least partially, is).  The Blizzard brand-name and world of mouth brought in millions of players who had never played a MMORPG before, for whom supermarket red was more than adequate, and their presence made the game interesting enough to participate in even amongst many connoisseurs who normally wouldn’t touch the fare.

EVE Online was an interesting diversion, but it’s not really so much a game as it is a virtual economy.  It’s fruit cake at the wine and cheese festival: enjoyable enough if you like that sort of thing, but I’m on the scene for the main course.

Pressing for quality

I think perhaps a wine connoisseur could run a very good vineyard, at least in terms of producing something of quality, but I learned the hard way that they would be picking up from scratch how to operate a wine press. What’s more, they would rather savor wine than make it, and so they would be easily sidetracked without a great deal of motivation to stay focused.

So it is that, while I can understand a great deal of the theory and the reason behind games, my experiments in BYOND have determined that I have little drive to make one myself.  It’s something I’m ashamed of because I suspect, again, I could produce something of superb quality if only I could muster the motivation.

My motivation to create is simply being very tired of the mediocrity in the field.  However, in the now, I have some brief contentment.

Now: City of Heroes (again)

Over the past few days, I’ve been enjoying City of Heroes again, partly because it’s one of the few MMORPGs to offer what gaming purists are really after: some fairly in-depth core game play mechanic involving satisfying use of one’s decision-making skills.  (To attempt to put into words that “certain something” that makes the passion worth it.)  More modern MMORPGs are attempting to do this these days, and it’s about time.

However, at over 1400 hours logged  in XFire alone, I know I’ve been at this particular wine and cheese festival so much that it’s unlikely even the later additions to the fare (the changes patched in during the last 6 months) are going to tide me over for long.

Creating and dabbling with new characters is the main source of enjoyment in the game, but I’ve used nearly every single power in the game (or a similar power) at least once.  I’ve determined through excessive experimentation (of which a great deal of past Blog entries can be found and many more were pruned) that it seems I want a character that:

  • Contributes well to a team in a very powerful, meaningful manner.
  • Is able to fend for themselves well enough that they can survive soloing when no team can be found.
  • Does enough damage when soloing that it’s not boring to solo.

Unfortunately, it seems City of Heroes is a game designed with these points in contention.  If your character contributes heavily to a team, then they either cannot survive solo, or they do very poor damage when soloing.  If your character does great damage they’ll likely have a hard time surviving soloing (Blaster) or do not contribute much on a group scale (Scrapper).

One can tell from the archetype descriptions alone that this is by design, but City of Heroes is interesting in that it is a game of exceptions.  Particularly tricky designs might overcome these limitations, and that’s what makes the alt-a-holicism so appealing.

I probably would have found a satisfying answer by now, but add to this one more factor I look for in a character:

  • Is a relatively original build so as to be more interesting.

And Fire Control/Kinetic Controllers are out.

After two days of alt-a-holicism, I found an Ice Blaster/Mental Manipulation Blaster to be an unusually strong compromise.   His damage output and minor control can contribute to a team, keep him alive when soloing, and provide acceptable damage output when soloing.  However, after taking him to level 23 over the course of a day and a half, I’m feeling that familiar feeling again…

I’m a fairly hardcore player in that I can take down a +1 level Freakshow boss, or even Archvillains downgraded to Elite Bosses, solo as a Blaster with a reasonable degree of success.  Yet, even with my best efforts, I’m unable to avoid a slew of annoying deaths on tenacious through many missions, and that leaves me to suspect that my hero simply isn’t capable of meeting condition #2 (to fend for himself when soloing).

Further, condition #1 (to contribute meaningfully to a group) feels weak when my Blasting at maximum firepower just gets me killed.  Yes, I know all about aggro control, but just about any other archetype is capable of putting up a strong front for a group that needs it when played well:

  • A Tanker is that front line.
  • A Scrapper is a weaker front line that may do in a pinch.
  • A Defender can debuff enemies into submission or buff allies over the bar to succeed.
  • A Controller can do 66% of what a Defender does while simultaneously suppressing enemy attacks to the point where a Tank may be unnecessary in most cases.
  • A Kheldian is capable of shifting between these roles as a weaker version as needed.

A Blaster… well, they can try to kill things faster.  They have some control and debuffs, but they’re not all that effective.  A Blaster is an offensive juggernaut, they are defense through offense, but when the party has no front line, there’s no real point to being a Blaster: the foes’ retribution kills you if you attack anything more than a few targets at a time, and if you’re only attacking a few targets at a time you might as well be a Scrapper and have better survivability to show for it.

Yet, you’ll notice from how I voiced Scrappers as “may doing in a pinch” that you can see I feel that archetype, too, does not really suit condition 1.  Even my most oddball Dark Armor scrappers are rather poor contributors, mostly doing what pretty much every other Scrapper does: take down bosses fast.   Their Cloak of Fear and Oppressive Gloom are little avail against anything genuinely dangerous, and they’re not great tanks against anything that isn’t predominantly psychic – at least, not without a ton of expensive Invention Origin Enhancements.

So I’m left with Kheldians, Tankers, Defenders, or Controllers.   The first is deliberately engineered not to be able to solo through the inclusion of Void Hunters — liberal defensive inspiration and control powers use can help, but no guarantees.  The later three have fairly absymal damage output, especially post level-20 when the archetype damage tables are in affect, which makes soloing boring.

Again, Kinetics Controllers and Defenders are out due to originality issues.  Granted, I did try an Energy/Kinetics Defender once, but I found he wasn’t able to weather a good alpha strike (that initial wave of attacks when a hero annoys an idle group of enemies) even with Fulcrum Shift working for him.

So City of Heroes has me in a stalemate. This problem has always been the case when I’m currently involved in City of Heroes.  I’m about ready to give up – I don’t believe the problem can be solved – at least not to the stringent limitations I’ve set myself.  Perhaps I’ll break down and give a Kinetics Controller a serious try. I’ve only taken one up to 20-something before.

Ugh.  Champions Online could not come sooner.

It’s still not too late for me to go back to making my own game. However, in the meanwhile, I suppose I might as well dabble with City of Heroes, at least so long as I’ve paid for this month’s subscription.  Besides: to an extent, the hunt for a better character excites me.

2 Responses

  1. Great blog.. Never played City of Heroes for which I regret not because it seems like a solid game from your descriptions.. I played World of Warcraft and find it very bland as well.. Waiting for Darkfall though..

    “alt-a-holicism” I lol’d on that one.. Very funny.. I had that problem in World of Warcraft when I built my toon to sixty and found out how bland it really was..

    I loved your wine and cheese analogy.. Genius.

  2. City of Heroes can be interesting to give a spin – it’s a game where you have to unlearn a lot of MMORPG behavior to play well, because City of Heroes was developed with kiting, knocking back foes, and using cover in mind, where most MMORPGs discourage kiting, do not include knockback as a control effect, and usually don’t bother to factor in line-of-sight to monster behavior.

    I’ll keep an eye on Darkfall, but I am a little worried about it. Being the game play connoisseur at heart, my primary focus is on unique game play mechanics and Darkfall’s developers are surprisingly close-lipped about that, mostly focusing talking about the game world: not a good sign for me. However, it sounds like it will at least have a skill-based advancement system (rather than a traditional leveling system) and that’s unusual enough to watch. Besides, sometimes gaming bliss can be achieved without necessarily new elements, just balanced and executed really well.

    Right now, I’m mostly looking forward to Champions Online. It won’t play the same as City of Heroes, but it being made by the same people wit ha more flexible focus, so I’m crossing my fingers what we’re looking at here is City of Heroes 2009.

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