Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge

Do you ever get those days when you just can’t decide what to play. You sit there, mouse hovering over your desk-top game icons, frozen with indecision? As I was doing that the other day I realized that I had seven (7) mmo’s on my desktop, and a handful of non-mmo games kicking around my hard drive. I realized this was, as a point of order, ridiculous. January and February were months of waiting. Rift, Xsyon, World of Tanks....everything was ‘soon to be released’ and I had piled up a mountain of games to try out in the meantime. It was still a bit crazy, however. I felt I needed something to reign it all in while still allowing me to try out different games.

This is Ridiculous

Enter The Sandbox Challenge.

I have said, numerous times, that I don’t like pve. I don’t mind the odd ‘grind session’, and I do like crafting, but I especially don’t like questing which is the meat and potatoes of most theme-park MMO games that I have encountered. The perfect solution, therefore, should be the Sandbox genre of games which allegedly allows you complete freedom of action and play. Many of those icons on my desktop were just that but I have an especially hard time staying away from forum talk and other methods of gathering information about a game prior to playing. It can be good in that it keeps me away from games I may not like, but it may also be limiting my gaming horizons.

Darkfall is a great example. If I hadn’t read so many reviews which gave me the impression that the game was, in reality, a straight-forward skill-grind to a set path as opposed to a freedom-of action sandbox, I might still be playing and enjoying it. These games, after all, are meant to be fun, aren’t they? I think sometimes I am guilty of being a bit too analytical, or even cut-throat in my gaming. I often ask: What is all of this going to amount to? Why should I ‘grind’ my skills up? It’s a way of ignoring the potential fun in doing, and focusing on the end-result which, in most cases, won’t matter a few months after you quit playing (no matter how long that may be) anyway.

All those days (actual days) I spent playing Warhammer building my characters is all for not now- but dammit, I had fun! Should I have not bothered because the game was eventually to go to shit? Of course not. Whatever is fun at the time should be pursued. It’s not a contest, after all, where we compare great MMO achievements in the end and whoever has the highest ranked, geared-out toons wins (or is it.........?).

It is true that MMO’s are a bit of an investment of your time and energy. In the case of Darkfall I am kind of glad I didn’t ‘hang in there’ for very long. The ‘grind’ doesn’t bother me since the grind is, in fact, playing the game. What bothered me was the linear nature in which I perceived this ‘sandbox’ progressed. I could be wrong, but there you go, a victim of my own forum-surfing ways.

A good friend of mine (me) suggested that I set a gaming challenge that would allow me to continue to try a variety of games in a more organized manner that would be more blog-friendly. In real life I do like things to be organized, and predictable- even my fun (which sounds a bit sad but I’m well used to myself by now, so withdraw your pity, kind friends).

I’m much like a dog in that I like my routine. I’m all for random fun, and exciting changes, as long as I’m notified in advance and given approximately three months to adapt. I think I would have been great in the Armed Forces if not for the fact I hate people telling me what to do. Hmmmm....Perhaps if I could have started as an Admiral or General it would have been more palatable.

“You there, over the top now, that’s a good lad.”
“Sir, the machine guns are slaughtering us!”
“Now, now, no one likes a whinger. Over you go, and mind the gap.”

I think I have the hang of that alright, as long as I’m not the guy in the middle.

I am always partial to suggestions made by me and thought (naturally) that this challenge was a great idea. It would keep me honest, as it were, and give me something to blog about as well, and at the end of the day isn’t it all about me being entertaining and funny? 

What’s that? You do think I’m funny?

What do you mean, you think I’m funny? What’s funny? The way I write? What? Funny how? Funny like I’m a clown? My blog amuses you? I make you laugh, like I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? Is that it?


I have come up with the following rules to keep me on track and ensure that it is challenging for me. I have set minimum and maximum playing times to allow enough time to experience the game but there has to be an upper limit too! I can’t get suckered in for months at a time or the list won’t get finished. To spice up the challenge I have also decided to avoid forum-talk, and asking for any kind of assistance or advice. I will include  non-mmo games as well to break up the online play.

I will be looking for a Grand Slam Winner: The King of the Sandbox! There will be two-stages in the challenge. In the first stage I will rate the games on a scale of 10, and the top 2 will go on to stage 2. I will re-play those 2 without the restrictions of the ‘commandments’ (see below) for an additional 20 hours each (or sub for a month possibly....) and finally select a winner.

Here then, are my Gaming Commandments fresh from the mountaintop (and I even managed to come up with 10):

  1. I can not read forums for hints or tips.
  2. I will play each game for a minimum of 20 hours and a maximum of 40 hours.
  3. I can not ask for help in chat channels although I can use tips I happen to see.
  4. I can not ask to join a guild or ask another player for help.
  5. When given a choice in action or alignment I must be evil.
  6. I will incorporate some light Role Playing Elements.
  7. No alts or re-rolls allowed.
  8. I will play the games in order of their initial release.
  9. The games must have free trials or free-to-play options. I do not have a secret cave, guarded by a dragon, filled with chests of gold and scattered with the corpses of heroes who have died trying to steal my treasure. Some exceptions may be made.
  10. The games must be fantasy, historical, or science-fiction based (no modern day, real life setting- I get that every day and I am finding it, quite frankly, to be a little grindy.

My ratings will include:

1. Learning curve
2. Online Community
3. Challenge
4. Fun Factor
5. Crafting
6. Combat
7. Economy
8. Setting
9. Immersion
10. Interface

I also have to consider what the point is. Other than blogging fodder and fun, should there be a ‘prize’ for the winner? A month-long re-design of my blog page to honor them? Maybe a 6-month sub? I’ll think on that and take some suggestions over the course of the challenge.  I'm not limiting myself to only the challenge games, however, so this challenge may take a while.

Here are the games, and their release dates, that I have come up with. Any new ones which may be released prior to the end may be added. I'll have to come up with a way to fairly rate the non-mmo's because they obviously won't have a community, or crafting. Some of these games (Pirates, Mount & Blade, and Uncharted Waters) I have tried, but only very briefly.

  1. Ultima Online (09/1997)
  2. Istaria: Chronicles (08/2003) 
  3. Ryzom (09/2004)
  4. A Tale in the Desert (05/2006)
  5. Wurms Online (06/2006)
  6. Elder Scrolls IV (03/2007) Non MMO   
  7. Pirates of the Burning Sea (01/2008)
  8. Haven and Hearth (08/2008)
  9. Mine Craft (05/2009)
  10. Fallen Earth (09/2009)
  11. Mount and Blade: Warband (03/2010) Non MMO
  12. Mortal Online (09/2010)
  13. Uncharted Waters (Q4/2010)
  14. Perpetuum Online (11/2010)
  15. Earthrise (02/2011)


Darkfall- I have already played the two-week free trial and ruined myself by reading the forums.

Eve- I have, shall we say, a previous history with Eve and have exceeded the maximum time limit (or smashed it rather).

Xsyon- I have already read a lot about this game and am fairly involved in the forums. I plan on playing this game when the prelude begins as I have pre-ordered/purchased the game.

It's a monumental task, really. Fourteen games (at this writing) at twenty hours each....... That's a lot of time. I don't plan on doing this exclusively so there will be other games, and posts in-between. I'm in no hurry. I plan on playing games forever- this just gives me a purpose in those times I am at odds with what to play.

Are there any games you can think of I have missed, ones that shouldn't be there, or anything you would llike to see added to the Commandments, or the Scoring? If so, leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. I've done this sort of thing before. It's the worst part of growing old and having a job that you have to try to pack as much fun as you can into the few hours you have to do it. I think there was a Calvin and Hobbes strip about it.

    Also, avoid Mortal Online like the plague. I know I just ruined your system but you'll thank me later.

  2. I may do that......I've seen and heard nothing good about Moral Online but it may be some time before I actually get to it!

  3. Ryzom. 21 day trial. Musn't be missed. Don't miss the seasonal weather patterns and the migration patterns of its wildlife. Play a Fyros (desert dweller), turn the graphic knob to 11, and be prepared to be blown away once you get off the mainland. Good luck and I'll definitely be following this closely!!

  4. Thanks! Just adding Ryzom now- someone else pointed it out here:

    Cheers for that!

  5. nice site :)

    Got here from trying to figure out how to get a bloody crafting knife in Xsyon wich i just started about 15 hours ago... Time to head to bed :P

  6. Thanks for stopping by. Haven't been back to Xsyon in ages. Should check the forum to see what's new.....