Monday, January 17, 2011

The Visawraithes Cometh Not, Or How I Got Two New Games

I was walking last night from my room to the hall when I noticed it. I froze. The breath caught in my throat, and I could feel my heart-beat accelerating. I glanced nervously around and looked again. It was still there. Sitting silently on my chest-of-drawers like a shiny gemstone. Beckoning like a Siren’s voice. Tantalizing. It was, The Visa.

I immediately expected a trap, and as my breath came back to me in short, quiet gasps, I looked around. She Who Will Be Named Later? Absent. Work or some such buffoonery. I expected to hear the pounding hooves of the Visawraithes. Surely my proximity to The One Card would fetch them? I listened but could hear nothing. I was alone with the card. My adrenaline began to flow. Later would come the dry mouth, the fatigue, the trembling muscles. For now, there was only the Visa and the gaming possibilities it could provide.

I snatched it from the top of the chest and ran, bowling over the new puppy, too dumb to get out of my way, and narrowly missing the other, smarter dog who scrambled quickly aside. This is madness, I thought, as I slid across the hardwood floor into the computer room. I’m not to be trusted with the Visa. We have an unspoken agreement, and She Who Will Be Named Later is the keeper of the sacred card. Remember the whole RIFT affair, not so long ago? What was she thinking, a small voice in the back of my head whispered? Who cares, came the response, confident and sure. This is your moment, my son, do not fail me. Come over to the dark, wait, that was Star Wars.

The computer, always on during the weekends for obvious gaming-related reasons, was warm and ready. I sat down and took a deep breath. I knew what I had to do, and it involved a great deal of irresponsibility on my part. There was no time to waste.

First on my list: Mount and Blade: Warband. SynCaine is to blame for this. His recent blog posts got me hooked and for the last week I have been playing over and over again, only to be thwarted every time by the 30-game-day limit on (free) play. Blasted developers and their never-ending lust for money! How very dare they insist on getting paid for their efforts.

In reality, this was something I had been planning on doing for awhile. I do enjoy the game, and while there are some gamers I know (which may or may not include me) who would, perhaps, obtain a pirated copy of the full version ‘just to see if they like it’, I decided this one was a keeper. The engrossing game-play, unique medieval setting, and the free-of-constraints sandbox set-up aside, it is produced by a smaller developer. I am a big believer in supporting small business (of all kinds) who make a real effort in innovative design, a quality product, or good customer service. At the very least it makes me feel smug and allows me to complain about how the big guys could be doing better.

My next stop? Crazytown, Canada: population: me! You’d think after the RIFT fiasco (pre-ordering and paying for 6 months in advance) I would have learned a lesson. You wouldn’t be wrong to think that, however, you’d be wrong to think that about me. Captain Impulsive (which should have been my DC Universe Online hero name) when it comes to games I decided that I would extend my philosophy of ‘support the small guy’ and pre-order yet another game: Xsyon.

This could also prove to be a pretty dumb move, but at the very least I get 2 free months of play for my 40-bucks, and access to the beta. In addition there will be a head-start of sorts with a safe-zone to get started in-game without the worry of being annihilated. If you don’t know much about Xsyon, don’t worry, neither do I! I stumbled upon it while reading a post on MMORPG about sandbox games. It’s been awhile since I read something and was immediately drawn to the concept of it before

a) caring what it looked like, and 
b) how it would actually work in real (gaming) life

Let me back up a bit and summarize what I know from a week or so of lurking in the forum and reading the propaganda they have posted on their site. I won’t list the features verbatim as I’m sure you can easily link over and read it yourselves.

It is a sandbox game that promises, as they all do, limitless freedom.......and the eyeballs roll. We’ve all heard that before now haven’t we? Similar to the candy from the man in the white van, it always proves impossible to resist so hear me out. In Xsyon they seem to be taking that quite seriously. There are no NPC’s- none. No stores, no shops, nothing. Just the players and the world they create. That world begins in an area that has been modeled on the Lake Tahoe Basin in the good ‘ole UsofA. They have apparently utilized the US geological survey to make it exact.

I’m not really big on talking about what a game may be like, or what it could end up being. Although I read countless reviews of games, and lurk in the forums trying to understand what it’s pro’s and cons are, I don’t much like guessing how things could work and that's just a combination of my personality, training, and experience: shoulda, coulda, woulda means nothing. In the end what matters is what it actually is. Therefore I’m not going to speculate on the game but rather I will start playing and blogging. With no NDA we can learn together.

I'm interested not only in the game-play which may (or may not) turn out to be engrossing and interesting (must....resist....speculation!) but in the virtual social experiment that will be revealed by the players and their actions. This isn’t part of the game-play, mind you, and definitely not advertised on the box, but consider this: if there no goals save the ones created and acted upon by players what kind of a world will it be? Theoretically speaking there may be no combat what-so-ever. Everyone could cooperate and work together. Utopia here we come. The chances of that? Similar to the temperature here at the moment, I’d imagine (-30 Celsius) but it is possible. Anything’s possible.

I will leave you with some of the things that sold me on the game and that I find interesting enough to risk yet another $40.00 on:

  • Social life will revolve around player formed tribes and their struggle (or cooperation) for resources.
  • All structures will be player built including roads, houses, fortifications. Terra forming will be included in the game.
  • All tools, armor, weapons, food, etc. are player gathered, crafted, and made. Animal taming and breeding are to be included as I understand it.
  • Technology begins in a primitive state and will evolve.
  • Any/all quests will be player written and driven and assigned by the tribes.
  • Resources, including mobs, do not re-spawn. Cut a tree, its gone. Kill a bear, ditto.
  • Skill based advancement with some leveling as well.
  • Open world PVP with NO safe zones.
  • The promise of a Mount and Blade type combat system to come (eventually).

Lastly, and most intriguing to me:

The designer is an Archaeologist and Architect (turned computer whiz) with a stack of degrees from prestigious US Universities. This may not mean much to you, and doesn’t speak to his ability to successfully produce or manage an MMO, but I think its something worth considering. The education and experience that he could potentially bring to the game may make it more interesting, immersive, and realistic. No one can accurately tell us how to properly fling a fireball at an Orc so who’s to know if the physics or ‘realism’ is off in fantasy-based games? How to build a house, construct a stone wall, weave a grass basket, or how small social bands interact, compete, and survive in a world with limited resources? If anyone can make that realistic it will be an Archaeologist/Architect. That doesn’t guarantee he will get it right (and trust me I’ve met many a clueless archaeologist over the years) but he stands a better chance in my book than anyone else.

If it flops I'll try to stay positive and think of it as only having cost me around 20 quid. That seems like less.

He's Using the Power of The Visa, onward.

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