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Excuse Me While I Have a Nerd Spaz Attack I Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
A Place to Call Home I Sex, Drugs, and Warcraft
Video Dump I Travel Log: .hack

MMORPGAMER
Issue #134 Location, Location, Location
August 9th, 2010

Updating

This column is the first one I've written in my new home. My room is huge, my roommates are awesome, and rent is cheaper; all around, the change is a huge improvement. The moving itself was a pain in the butt, so I hope to not have to do it again for a long time. So now, settle in with me and I'll tell you some MMO news.


  Excuse Me While I Have a Nerd Spaz Attack

I'm a pretty big geek for voice acting, which is heavily interwoven with video games these days. It's a career choice I've been working towards for a couple years now. I do my best to stay savvy on most news that relates in any way to voice-over work and voice actors, so I had one of my meltdowns of glee at this bit of news.

DC Universe Online revealed the voice cast for some of the main heroes and villains of the game, and there are some big names being brought onboard. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, both heard in Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Arkham Asylum, will be reprising their roles of Batman and The Joker respectively. Just having these two voicing in the MMO will probably attract hundreds of players, but Sony Online Entertainment isn't stopping at the Batman franchise. Also involved are two Firefly alumni: Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb) will be voicing Superman, and Gina Torres (Zoe Alleyne Washburne) will play Wonder Woman. James Marsters, mostly known as the bad boy vampire Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, is cast as Lex Luthor. Finally, Michelle Forbes (Maryann in True Blood) will be the voice of Circe.

Seriously, how many fandoms can you pull talent from? Can they get some Dr. Who people into this, or maybe Lost even? Anyhow, audio-wise, this is all looking pretty appealing to me.


  Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

It has been announced, and I try not to be surprised anymore when I hear similar news, that Everquest II is going free-to-play. It's not a move towards FTP as, say, Dungeons and Dragons Online went for. Called Everquest II Extended, it's more the freemium model that Lord of the Rings Online has going, but with a few differences. The regular subscription version of Everquest II will remain unchanged, while the FTP version will have separate servers and forums. So those of you who are worried that those FTP mongrels might ruin your gaming experience, you have the option to stay on one side of a virtual wall while the non-paying players are on the other. But subscribers are also allowed to play the FTP version if they want to. Existing characters from regular Everquest II can even be copied into Extended for $35. Of course, players who continue to use the pay-to-play service will get extra goodies like Station Cash and special in-game items. Par for course here.

FTP players will be given access to a large amount of content, albeit somewhat limited. For one, the recent Sentinel's Fate expansion pack is not available to non-subscribers unless it is purchased. The level cap is set at 80, but if you buy the aforementioned expansion pack you’ll be allowed to go to 90. Also, only 8 out of 24 character classes and four races are available to players of Extended.

I'm tempted to run a poll to see what everyone thinks the next MMO to start running with the freemium/FTP crowd will be. Actually, I could just ask you guys. What do you think?


  A Place to Call Home

Last issue I talked about Game Nation, a upcoming MMO themed amusement park. The creators are on the move to find a state that will serve as the official location. Cole Peacock, who leads the Game Nation team, says that over 10,000 new jobs will be available for the construction of the park alone. Plans are in place to begin building Game Nation in the spring of 2011.

Two new areas, or "districts", have also been announced. The Domain of Xeridon will serve as the sci-fi, Halo style war zone where space marines battle an invading alien scourge. For the fantasy enthusiasts, the Realm of Etheria will feature a lively castle town with shops, rides, and those inevitable townspeople who will serve as quest givers. They really need you to go out and kill those ten large rats for them ASAP, please and thank you.

Well, things still seem to be moving forward. I imagine there is still plenty of space here in California for a theme park, plus massive amounts of patrons they could pull from Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. Or maybe they'll go for an untouched location, as it were. Somewhere quiet that doesn't have a lot of hustle and bustle where the tourist trade could use a boost.


  Sex, Drugs, and Warcraft

Sex doesn’t actually enter into this, thank God. Actually, this story veers more towards interesting than it does tragic, in the sense of how events go from a bungle to a complete mess for those involved.

A 17-year-old teenager from Buffalo Grove, IL, was arrested for stealing credit cards and using them so he could play World of Warcraft and buy fake gold within the game. He had stolen one of the credit cards from a Lincolnshire car back in July. Police were able to follow the transactions stemming from that card straight to the suspect, Trevor Miller. His charges racked up to "identity theft, burglary, unlawful use of a credit card, computer fraud, and unlawful production of marijuana plants."

What, you noticed that last one? Yeah, turns out when the police were searching the Miller property, they came across six marijuana plants inside and outside of the house. This led to Trevor's parents also being charged with unlawful production of marijuana plants. As far as I understand, Mr. and Mrs. Miller were not oblivious bystanders either; it was actually their crop of marijuana the cops found.

So I guess there's a lesson in all of this, but heck if I know what it is. Maybe that you should hide your illegal "hobbies" away when the cops come to your house because of something illegal your kid did?


  Video Dump
Showdown

Here's a six minute long cinematic trailer for DC Universe Online. You'll be able to hear some of the voice acting that I was mentioning in the story up top. It's pretty nice.


  Travel Log: .hack

I want to go back for a second to something that isn't exactly a real MMORPG. Last time in my FusionFall impression of sorts, I mentioned that I had played through the .hack games. I often forget since it's a JRPG, but the series attempted something very interesting in that you are playing a game within a game. Or in this case, a JRPG within a MMORPG.

The set-up was in the semi-near future, a MMMORPG called The World is the big gaming craze; the WoW of .hack's setting, if you will. This is a future where gaming technology has gotten to the point that you can play game with a high-tec, virtual boy kind of head-set that lets you experience the game like you're actually there. At least as much as you can sitting in front of a computer with a controller in your hand. You enter the shoes of Kite, a new player to The World. You log in and meet up with your friend Orca. Orca is a huge deal in The World, a famous player who was one of two players to conquer an extremely difficult quest called One Sin, earning them the title "The Descendants of Fianna." Orca takes you to a low level area and is teaching you the basics of the game when you spot something strange. A girl in white darts past you, being chased by something unknown with a red wand. The two manage to catch up with the girl, and she attempts to give Orca an important item, but they are suddenly confronted by the monster with the red wand. Orca is hit with some kind of immense attack and the server crashes. Later, Kite is left with the item meant for Orca, the Book of the Twilight, which activates and gives Kite the Twilight Bracelet. It's a rather unwieldy looking thing that only he can see (along with a few others). Kite also learns that his friend Orca has fallen into a coma in real life, and that other players of The World have also been put into a coma. So Kite begins a mission to discover the source of these strange comas, how to save his friend and the others affected, and to stop the data corruption that will eventually spread throughout the entire game.

The concept of the games is something I really liked. A computer program that could attack both players and the world outside of its boundaries struck me as pretty cool. It's a subject that's been done already, no doubt, but I was intrigued by the way it worked in .hack. Kite could cheat the system in The World by using Twilight Bracelet, hacking into monsters to give his team the advantage in a fight. He could also break into areas hidden in the game code, where the secrets of The World and its origins had been buried rather than erased. This is a place where viruses and glitches were presented as real, physical dangers to the players. If Kite and his teammates were to ever lose to a virus infected monster or get caught in a game glitch, they too were at risk to be put into a coma or worse. At one point, the The World's system administrator, Lios, began to regard Kite as a risk to The World himself because of his bracelet and sought to delete his character data.

All your time is spent inside The World; you never get to run around outside. The game sets it up so that when you turn on your PS2 to play .hack, it's like you're booting up your computer in the universe that The World is played in. The first screen you always see when starting the game is your mock "computer screen" where you can log into The World from. So you're not really playing as the main character, you're the main character playing as his avatar in MMORPG. The way you learn about the situation outside of The World is that since you're on a computer, you can check your emails and the news on the internet. Inside The World, other players would be running around the main towns that you could talk to and trade items with. The games forums were loaded with posts of both frivolous matters, important tips, and areas to visit. You could team up with other players to take on dungeons (actually, most of the time it was essential to team up with others) that were on your friends list. Also, your game friends within The World would email you outside of the game.

This was another thing that interested me. Like a real MMORPG, there are some players that are just playing to have fun, acting the way they do in the real world. Then there are the players that take the game seriously, role-playing as the character they have created. In a way, every person in the .hack is actually two characters; the personality that you're presented in the game and the actual player. It's when you become good enough friends with another player and you start emailing them that you begin to learn about the individuals hidden behind their avatars. Many of the emails you receive are just small talk; what's your favorite food, characters wanting your opinion on something taking place in reality, and other chit-chat. It was sometimes surprising when I saw a glimpse of the real person behind one of my teammates. You have Mistral, a cutesy Wavemaster (mage) with a high voice and some annoying noobish tendencies, who turns out to be an adult woman pregnant with her first child. Balmung, your honorable Blademaster who fights for justice and balance in The World, emails you at one point to ask what he should do about a girl that likes him in his class.

The other thing to remember in an MMORPG is that sometimes the avatars running around in the game tend to look similar to one another if the character creator isn't very complex. It's the difference between an MMORPG that has a character creator with sliders that allow you to tweak with every aspect of your avatar, and one that uses a selection of preset facial and body features. .hack's The World seems to lean more towards the latter. If you look at the other players populating The World (the ones that can't be made into your teammates), you can see the several avatars that are alike in certain ways. But even the characters important to the plot had doppelgangers running around. The .hack series was not just games; there are comics and anime shows as well. .hack//Sign was an anime series that took place in the same universe as the first PS2 .hack games, but before the events of Kite and his crew. The show focuses on Tsukasa, a Wavemaster player who can't log out of the game. The World has become real for him; for example he can be hurt and feel physical pain in the game. Comparing the characters in Sign and in the games, many of them are almost clones of each other with a palette swap. Tsukasa's model is also Elk's, the timid Wavemaster that hung around with cat girl Mia. Black Rose is the twin of Mimiru. Orca and Bear look pretty much the same. (Actually, the DVD that comes with the fourth .hack game has an animated special called .hack//Gift where the characters from the games and Sign meet up. They sort of make fun of the similarities between the characters' looks, among other things, and Balmung has an amusing mental breakdown.) There was actually some special events in the .hack games that if you went to a certain places at the right time, you could see scenes from .hack//Sign play out like ghostly flashbacks.

Sadly, for all the things I liked about .hack, there were execution problems with the games. There's only about 6 or 7 different dungeons areas to go to, so the scenery gets stale after awhile. Combat was dull too. You could attack physically by pressing one button, or you could perform skill and magic spells. This entailed pausing the game to go to the skill menu, choosing the skill and then activating it. You usually had two teammates with you controlled by either selecting a battle method (heal, attack, defend) and letting the AI run with it, or you could choose specific actions for the character to perform. Either way, you still had to pause and go to a menu. The AI also had an issue with continuous action. I could tell my Wavemaster that I want him constantly casting heal on me and my other teammate while we attack, except that the AI would only do the action once and then go back to attacking physically. So I had to go to the AI's strategy menu over and over to get that character to heal enough times so that the battle will be done before he stops again. This style of combat doesn't work well with a game that is trying to ape the real time feel of a MMORPG, plus it was also boring as heck. I fell asleep several times while in a dungeon fighting monsters. Also, I didn't have much of an attachment to any of the characters in the story. The .hack//G.U. games improved several of the aspects that were lacking in the previous installments, like the stop and start combat and also having better characters.

The technology of the PS2 didn't quite let the feel of a mock MMORPG work in a single-player game. You have to suspend disbelief for a game we're supposed to believe is a constantly changing, online world when the game has no actual online functions. Yes, you could talk to other fake players, but unless you progressed through the story, they would be repeating the same things over and over. Yes, you could add players to a friend's list, but only the predetermined ones that had some importance to the story. At some point, you would hit the peak of the game and have nothing left to do. I don't think it's possible to truly get the feel of a MMORPG in a JRPG, or vise versa. For the sake of the story in .hack, you probably couldn't go any more MMORPG with the game than they did, but most people don't play one for the other anyway. People playing .hack were playing for the JRPG experience, not a MMORPG one. In the end, the .hack series strikes me as a problematic, but fascinating experience. Knowing what I know now, yes, I would play the games all over again.



 Back to Title

Real quick, I want to open the floor for you guys to choose what the next Travel Log game will be. I always select them myself, so I thought it might be more interesting if it was a game readers wanted to hear about. I'm going to narrow down the choices by having theme of sorts for everyone to choose from. The theme this time is: Sci-fi. Alright, that's all for now!

/not LFG,
Sarah Williams (Feed me mail!)


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