Is there a Chef in the house?
The Chickster takes on MMOs and uses Star Wars: Galaxies as a prime example. 'Why do they suck?' 'How come people are suckers and pay to play them?' 'How come people agree to play them even when they're just released and completely unplayable?' 'Why will those same people be mad at Jakub for pointing out how inane their behavior is?' Those are the hard-hitting questions that might be answered in a real column. Instead, Tom sets his sights on the Chef.
Tom Chick on The Firing Line:
Is there a Chef in the house?
Okay, I'd appreciate it if you didn't let this get out. What I'm about to tell you. Because it's kind of embarrassing. I mean, we play games to be more powerful, to make a difference, destroying armies or building cities, becoming mighty warriors, saving planets, all that jazz. You know, escaping the mundane world of day-to-day existence, right? Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I always thought about it in my typical overanalytical way. But in Star Wars: Galaxies, my role in the galactic struggle is making cakes for overworked doctors.
I hit on this browsing the official Galaxies forums while I was kneeling in the dirt to dig up berries. (A brief aside: When you can run an MMO in a window, downtime is easier to tolerate. You can check your email, skim Blue's News, read a message forum, write a paper you have due tomorrow, that sort of thing. It's this multitasking that made Eve Online, The Sims Online, and Galaxies more bearable by letting me futz in the real world while I play in their online worlds, waiting for non-interactive stuff to run its course. In fact, I'll be the first one in line when someone makes an MMO that incorporates a full suite of productivity apps. You know, like Microsoft Office Online, but where you can go up levels while you're working on a Powerpoint presentation).
So I'm kneeling in the dirt, digging up the berries I need to craft Air Cakes, each of which will nudge me about fifty points closer to those several thousand points of General Crafting experience I need to advance to the next level of Domestic Arts, which is what I need to do to progress from a simple Artisan to a Chef, where I can then advance skills like Desserts, General Entrees, and Cooking, where I can then make stuff much more sophisticated than these Air Cakes. It's a level treadmill, sure, but instead of a mightier spell or a longer sword, I get a bigger recipe box.
Food in Galaxies is like potions in any other RPG. Eat or drink something and it will temporarily raise your stats. So a Chef isn't so much a chef as, say, an alchemist, which makes it sound less like home econ and more like something a wizard would do, so maybe it's okay if my friends do find out about all this. I mean, it's not like I'm wearing an apron while I'm crafting the Air Cakes.
SIDEBAR: Air Cakes require 8 units of fruit, one dough component, and one carbosyrup component. Anyone with Domestic Arts II skill can craft them.
So naturally, there's a health care crisis. No one wants to be a Medic, therefore the lines are long, therefore the customers are grumpy, and therefore the service is often poor. It's the equivalent of the DMV in a player-driven economy, but with wounded people instead of people registering their cars. And here's where I figure I can make a difference. I will go to a Med Center and give my Air Cakes to those poor underappreciated Medics, lifting their spirits and their stats. I will be the Gunga Din of Star Wars: Galaxies. On second thought, that sounds too much like a Jar Jar Binx thing. Let's just say I'll be doing my part to resolve the health care crisis. Plus, on the more mercenary side of things, when someone uses something you've made, like a gun, you’re supposed to get experience. With all these Air Cakes being gobbled up by hungry hungry medics, I’m sure to get a little closer to attaining the title of Chef.
But here come my first couple of Rude Awakenings. Firstly, no one's particularly interested when I come bustling in and announce free Air Cakes for all the medical staff. It seems their effects are minor and brief. In fact, it's hardly worth the trouble to open the trade interface to accept them from me. And I can't just leave them out for people to take, because there's no way to leave stuff out in Galaxies, which goes a long way to prevent littering. When I finally talk someone into taking some and eating them, just so I can see how much experience I get for feeding poor overworked underappreciated Medics, I discover that I get zero. Suddenly, my desire to be a Chef plummets and with it goes my interest in Galaxies.
SIDEBAR: The DMV is the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is in charge of licensing drivers in the United States and registering their cars. According to a study by me, the average wait time at the DMV is seventeen days, eight hours, and 27 minutes.
But now here's the tough question and a partial explanation for why you won’t see a review of Galaxies on FiringSquad until December: even though I've poured a fair amount of time into developing this character, am I qualified to pass any sort of judgment on a game that has so much more to offer than a career as a chef? Where do we begin to evaluate or review or even discuss MMOs? Do we have to investigate the emergent social properties, the clans, the player organizations and politics? Do we address the missteps during the launch after they're ironed out or is that water under the bridge? We’ll see. Some publications have already reviewed Galaxies, based on the beta that was open to the press.
But we’re trying to hit a moving target here, one that progresses in fits and spurts and is liable to be dramatically different as time passes. I've experienced first hand how far Anarchy Online and World War II Online have come. After hours in Galaxies, I'm pretty frustrated, but who knows what kind of game it's going to be in another month, much less another year. Tune in this December and keep an eye on this space for occasional updates.
We spend a lot of time wondering what the next big thing will be. Well this is it. Massively multiplayer online games. The last big thing was 3D cards, which were a pretty self-contained and easy-to-understand phenomenon. Now it’s these huge inchoate blobs of crafting and economics and combat and guilds and respawning and who knows what, all defying review for months on end, progressing from beta to release to a little less beta to something like a final state maybe six months later, give or take six months. Until then, all of us – players, reviewers, disinterested readers, uninterested readers, innocent bystanders – are like the proverbial blind men each trying to describe an elephant. And right now, unfortunately, me and my aspiring chef are the blind guy at the elephant’s ass end.
SIDEBAR: Elephants are the largest land animals on Earth. Because they have no natural enemies other than humans, they tend to live out their 60-year life spans. However, there are only two known species of elephant – African and Asian.
Here are my responses: Sacrifice. Rise of Nations. Kohan. No One Lives Forever. Jedi Knight, the first one and Jedi Outcast, the second one. Dark Cloud 2. Combat Mission. Panzer General. Crimson Skies. Warcraft III. Shogun. Freedom Force. Majesty. System Shocks 1 and 2. Morrowind. Rainbow Six. Warlords: Battlecry. Operation Flashpoint. Genre benders all, damn them! And just because I love it so much, I'm gonna mention it again: Sacrifice.
I think the real problem is that Brett is confusing Elite Force II, his example of genre-bending gone bad, with a good game. Just as there will be bad games, there will be bad games that bend genres. But this doesn't invalidate the principle of trying to create new ways to play, of trying to offer us alternatives to tired genres, of bucking established conventions.
Genre-bending done poorly is bad. Genre-bending done well is splendid. But if I have a choice of a genre-bender or a straight up genre game, each done adequately, I'll take the one that tries something different. I say keep bending. Flex them until they crack! Let's see what you got. To quote the ever sassy George Bush Jr. when he's not falling off Segways, I say, 'Bring it!'.
SIDEBAR: Thunder Bay is an absolutely gorgeous city. Of course, I wouldn’t want to stay the winter there.
This is a completely different way to play Warcraft III, and probably closer to what Blizzard originally had in mind in the early stages of developing the game and previewing it for the press. It's just you and your heroes with no pesky units or peons to get in your way. You have gold, but only to buy magic items. There's even a pack mule you can use to store extra items. It's all about playing with heroes, their skills, and a variety of magic items to come up with powerful combos. You're exploring maps and solving simple quests, but along the way, you'll run into some clever scripting tricks. The first of three episodes is included with the Frozen Throne expansion. Blizzard says the next two will be available for download in a few months.
Wow… the Chickster has a soft spot in his heart for MMOs, or maybe Star Wars? Well, no, he’s the one who coined the term ‘F*ck Star Wars’, but his leniency on Galaxies is unheard of. The question remains: is he right? Should some sites hold off on reviewing MMOs until they’re properly under way? There are plenty of people willing to review them as a new release, but 6 months from now the game might finally get good, or the devs might start messing with a good idea (*cough*Dark Age…*cough*). Those 6 months will allow the reviewer to truly get into the game and understand it. Then again, should devs have any excuse for launching junk, then charging the customer a monthly fee to pay for the repairs? Tom, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do! Dear readers, it’s time to warm up those flaming fingers and Sound Off! in the news comments.
SIDEBAR: This is the end, my only friend.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|