Glitch Guest — The Search for Something Preposterous: Tinkatolli

Updating once every month and a half is reasonable.  I’m still out there in gaming playing Guild Wars 2 and sampling others.  Other writing projects have been progressing lately, but I foresee some more posts here in the near future.

In the meantime, fellow former Glitchen acronymph approached me to see if I would run a guest blog, which sounded like a swell idea to me and a great way to update my blog with minimal work.  That post will shortly follow, but first I’d like to go ahead and request more guest bloggers from the Glitch community.  Not all of the games that Glitchen have migrated to are of interest to me, and I don’t have time to play them all.  Many of the games I play would not be of interest to most Glitchen, but I do want to provide a bit more content to the community.  If you’d like to review a game you are playing that you think might interest other former players, email me at the address provided in my bio and let me know the game you’d like to review, and perhaps we can do some more of these Glitch Guest posts.

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I am not a gamer. I am not a blogger. Bear with me.

I fell in love with Glitch, the first and only MMO I’d ever played, after it was recommended to me by a real life friend in October 2011. Oh, the hours I lost. Oh, the fun I had. Oh, the friends I made. Sadly, the game closed December 9th, 2012 essentially due to lack of funding.

Looking for a replacement wasn’t high on my list of priorities initally, although many of my in-game friends were recommending other games that might potentially whet my whistle.

Several weeks after Glitch closed and as I still combed the newsfeed (thank you Tiny Speck for keeping that aspect available to users) I found I really did want another game to keep me occupied in my limited spare time. I had purchased and was still playing Bubbletown locally on my laptop, but there are only so many borbs you can shoot in a day and still walk away with any sense of accomplishment.

A couple other Glitchers had mentioned Tinkatolli, more than once, and I finally signed up a week ago.

This game is aimed toward kids. Age range isn’t mentioned, but it’s apparent once you’re inside that the age range is youngish-young.

Now is also a good time to mention that I’m not a parent. Even so, I have to say it’s a useful game for young’ns. Gross motor skills are tasked with any video game, sure. But this online game has so many games within games it offers testing of math skills, prioritization, depth perception and timing.

There are seven lands in the world, each being small and straightforward. Stinkatolli is the exception to that statement, being somewhat labrynthine in layout and larger than the others. In my limited play, it seems the game is not particularly quest-driven. Aside from a daily “trade” challenge, the goal appears to be to collect coins and trash as you move through the lands. Energy is maintained through consumption of fruits found scattered about.

As with most online games, there is the option to become a paid member and this unlocks access to an additional land. Membership begins at $5.95 for a single month and includes additional “trinkets” which are also earned each time a player levels up. Trinkets can be exchanged for upgrades such as expanded housing for your Tinka.

The arcade style games-within-game are located throughout the lands and can be played at will. Many of these are fashioned after old classics. For instance, there is a version of Memory and another game is akin to Bejeweled. “Stax” is almost flashcard-esque in nature, testing basic math skills in a timed fashion combined with cute graphics.

As a tree-hugging hippie myself, I have to also love the aspect of the game that teaches and encourages kids to recycle. There is a “sorting station” that allows the users to take the “junk” they’ve collected from the game and make other items from it. I love that. There is also an option to create things IRL from recycled items, photograph them, and upload them to the site to be voted upon with an opportunity to have those creations become a part of the game.

It is a bit confusing to me why this game was designed as an MMO. Granted, after only a few logins perhaps I’m missing something, but to date I can’t see a purpose in having friends there and there isn’t much of a social aspect to it even passing other players in the trash hunt. There is a chat option, but it’s rather cumbersome and only available on the main screen of a land. If you’re engrossed in a game, comments are missed.

Overall, kid game for the win. For now. Is it fun? Yes. Is it challenging if you’re over the age of seven? Probably not. But it’s fun anyway. Shelldiggr is my favorite game so far and has managed to scare off the doldrums on more than one occasion. Tinkatolli won’t become the social platform and all-consuming game that Glitch had been for me – it simply doesn’t have enough depth – but it works well to satisfy my need to occasionally log in to something and experience a bit of diversion.

If you decide to take a run ’round Tinaktolli, I suggest you turn your chat option off. If you’re older than nine, you probably don’t want to hear the random chatter.

The Search for Something Preposterous: Here Be Monsters

There once was a strange civilization filled with sexless muppets that worshiped eleven giants.  They were often savage little capitalists, but they did not settle their differences with violence.  We know this civilization existed as the archaeological record is available on facebook pages and blogs and soon in art books and CDs.  But when this civilization came to a halt, the lives of the muppeteers did not.  Where did this diaspora lead them?

Many of their communities traveled nearly intact to facebook.  Some of them became emboldened by the success of the journey and set out to explore the bowels of their new territory.   Among these dark and dingy caves, known to most as facebook games, they encountered a place they found similar to their old home.  Thus some of us were introduced to Here Be Monsters.

Although HBM is not going to replace Glitch for me, there are some positives to the game, and I find myself enjoying it despite not expecting to.  Even the time I started playing helped overcome my expectations as I had the pleasure of finishing some introductory tasks and returning to London, the game’s hub location, to find maybe a dozen or more players I knew from Glitch.   HBM is a game of quests, exploring, harvesting, recipe unlocking, and fishing.  Oh and there’s some monsters too.

Although the game’s title and lore center around the monsters, I seem to spend little time with them.  And that’s too bad since the monsters are the best art in the game by far.  I think of my trap as a teleport point and a money generator.  Since you can travel to it for free, I set it up near a quest hub or resource that I am interested in and leave it there — as long as I make sure it has something for bait, it will generate money.

If I’m actually playing the game, I find a small slice of my time goes to crafting, and the majority goes to exploring and harvesting, usually both at the same time.  Crafting, unfortunately, is designed to be a large time sink, with some items taking hours to craft, and many items having a potential to fail despite the time — such failure can be prevented by success potions, but these seem to be only available as gifts from friends (but one of many options, with no way to really make a request) or from the cash shop.  The time to craft needed items begins to extend from minutes to hours to days, and while there are time potions that will speed this up that can be crafted, those also come with a chance of failure and take significant time.  Of course, you can get those potions if you spend money.

I’m not a big facebook game person.   In fact, when starting this one, it had been years since I played any facebook game, not even a puzzle game like Bejeweled.  I found the experience disheartening: despite the gigantic dip in Zynga’s stock, this company, if not others, still seems to be using the Zynga monetization methods.  I know these companies need to make money, but there’s a difference between conveniences that improve the free game and inconveniences designed to make the free game unwieldy and time consuming.  Ultimately, I think HBM commits the same sin I’ve repeatedly seen from many of these casual games: rather than try to make the moment to moment game play fun, they instead insert artificial time barriers that encourage a player to log out and check in later.  Rather than making the game a joyful distraction, this approach makes the game a habit.  Rather than playing the game to have fun, I found myself pulling up the game to see if my crops were done so I could do some cooking so I could do some other activity so I could finish a quest.  Most of the time, that meant a few minutes of gameplay and then hours of nothing with no reason to stay in game.

Even with these issues, I would be still playing HBM if it enabled me to spend time with my friends from the Glitch community in a virtual world again.   But despite that the game has persistent, multiplayer zones where other players can be seen moving and interacting with the world, there seems to be no reason at all for the developers to have put any effort into making that possible.  Other players interacting with the world have absolutely no effect, positive or negative, on your own interactions.  The chat interface is incredibly awkward: having it open blocks a sizable chunk of the play screen from view, but not having it open makes you very likely to miss the occasional message from a friend.  Private instant messaging is possible, but as far as I can tell, only between two players in the same zone.  And it cannot be done while playing.  Opening an IM window takes you to a screen with the two avatars standing there, completely eliminating any access to anything relating to gameplay.  The idea is creative, but it doesn’t belong in a game.  You cannot give, trade, sell, or buy items from other players, with the exception of sending an unsolicited gift once every 24 hours.  And this seems unlikely to change — the time it takes to craft items is inherent to the pacing of the content and the monetization style of the game.

The one thing I feel they have right is the incentive for adding friends.  Adding friends provides convenience but not adding does not lead to a penalty.  Really, the opposite approach of the crafting system.   Players can travel to the homesteads of their friends for free, making it a good idea to have lots of friends spread out around the world for easier exploration.  But a player who refuses to add friends will still be able to explore as her level increases, it will simply take more time.  There’s no failure, no push to the cash shop, no push to recruit or add strangers.  Well done there, HBM.

But I don’t think this game will work for most Glitchen.  Interaction is minimal.  Socializing is difficult.  Depth is completely lacking.  And as the game is intended for children, the chat filter is draconic.  Even the word “space” is filtered, presumably because one could then explain to another player that you can swear if you put spaces between the letters.  Well d a m n that approach to h e l l.  I even noticed a Glitch player in their forums complaining because she cannot use her normal screen name — it contains that nasty “space” word.

Despite that it is intended for children, I really don’t recommend it for them either.  Children have even less resistance to the habit-forming mechanics  that these kinds of games are so fond of than adults — in my completely amateur opinion, kids should just play games that are fun or informative, not games designed to make them check in at regular intervals.

On a scale of Rube to Scion of Purple, I give this game a Rube.  For you non-Glitchen, that means it’s often not that great and just a wee bit annoying.

There are other “Games for Glitchen” on my list, so we shall keep trying.

Farewell Good Friend

I’ve been putting this off for a long time.  Actually, I’ve been putting off writing to this blog at all for a long time — wasting my time in other places while futilely pursuing other writing projects that I abandon for other writing projects that I abandon to stare into the abyss.  I did not intend to leave this blog without new posts as long as I have, and perhaps I will change that in the near future..  I have plenty to say about GW2 (still playing, and yes, I even play my 80), Planetside 2, and the search for a replacement for Glitch: a preferably browser based, whimsical game that allows for creative expression and gives tools to enable goofy fun with friends.  A pretty damn specific search right?

That’s the gap that Glitch leaves in gaming.  It filled a truly unique niche, and it struggled for that reason.  But it shined for that reason as well.   Glitch shined because of the work of some great people.  And Glitch shined because it attracted some great people.  In the year that I played the game, I met countless smart, witty, creative, and kind Glitchen.  In many games where it is possible for other players to interfere with my fun, I learned to dread the approach of strangers.  Despite that grief could and did happen in Glitch, I never learned that dread.  Instead, odds were pretty good that most strangers were worth knowing.

Many who did not play dismissed the game as designed for hipsters: the silliest criticism I’d ever heard.  I met a wide variety of people ranging in age from too young to forever young.  I met scientists and corporate executives and students and teachers and truck drivers and professors and project managers and writers and artists and at least one sentient peanut butter sandwich.  Okay, I made the last one up.

I’ve had so much fun in Glitch, experienced so many unique moments: in honor of the new trailer sadly released after the closure announcement, here’s 17 fun things I did in Glitch.

The oldest pic I have of miners in TimTim Timm

Went to Timtim Timm to mine but stuck around for the company.

Frightened Kristen Marie.

Frightened Kristen Marie

Had my house jellied while I was offline because I say ridiculous things.

I tested the housing system.

Tested the housing system.

Got shrunkified by Stoot at a party.

Was shrunkified by Stoot.

Attended an end of the world party before the launch of housing.

Attended an end of the world party before the launch of housing.

Begged and bribed people to my home street to experiment on tree patch lifespan.

Begged and bribed people to my home street to experiment on tree patch lifespan.

Played around with the greatest bug ever.

Played around with the greatest bug ever.

Made Ayn Rand sit next to the pig.

Made Ayn Rand sit next to the pig.

Fried my CPU with a cubimal swarm.

Fried my CPU with a cubimal swarm.

Had drunken late night guests.

Had drunken late night guests.

Hid in the trees.

Hid in the trees.

Stared down Trisor.

Stared down Trisor.

Pranked a friend with empty notes everywhere.

Pranked a friend (KM did most of it, but I helped) by placing empty notes everywhere.

Monkeyed around.

Monkeyed around.

Expressed some strange ideas.

Expressed some strange ideas.

Waited for bad news with good friends.

Waited for the closure announcement with good friends.

17 is too small a number.

Farewell Glitch.   To the people of Tiny Speck: best wishes.  I hope the future brings great things for each of you. To the people of PBMS, thank you for making it worthwhile to open Glitch even when I didn’t want to play.  To the people of Ur: like the exiles of Faunasphere and GNE, there will be some game that attracts a large number of us again.  I’ll see you there.

Guild Wars 2: Yes, there is an endgame

Yes, there is an endgame.  Yes, there is progression at level 80.  Popular opinion says otherwise, but popular opinion also elevated Justin Bieber to celebrity status and Shades of Grey to bestseller.  Dismissing popular opinion as mindless drivel is not only justifiable — it’s pretty much the only way to approach everything these days.  The endgame exists.  One could say that he or she doesn’t personally find it entertaining, but to claim it doesn’t is just objectively wrong.

The problem, for some, seems not to be a lack of character progression—as mystic weapons and legendary weapons are clearly character progression— but that the content itself does not progress.  One does not have access to only a single raid that must be repeated until certain rewards are earned and can move on to the next raid.  And the dungeons that are available are all available at once.

But these dungeons are not linear dungeons.  And when they branch, there is no way to backtrack and complete all branches in a single run.  Between story mode and the multiple explorable mode paths, five dungeons ends up being about 20 unique bits of content, each a very different experience than the others even though there are only five starting points.

I cannot begin to count the number of ways I prefer this method.  I can pick any of these endgame activities at any time — I’m not stuck repeating the same one indefinitely.  And I do mean indefinitely.  In the traditional tiered raid structure, I might need to run that first raid only once before I randomly get the item I need to survive the next raid, but I also might need to run it 57 times.  There’s absolutely no way to gauge how long it will take before one can move on.

I hate that.  Hate.  Despise it with every fiber of my being.  It’s blatant Skinnerian conditioning.  The pigeon will peck the lever the most if rewarded inconsistently.  Not every peck, not every 5 pecks, but just sometimes.  The pigeon keeps pecking hoping that this peck will be the time.

Unfortunately, most people are pigeons.  They call this “endgame progression” — I call it being a sucker.  Hand over your $15 a month while we hide our content in a Skinner box to make you keep handing over $15 a month.  Some found this fun.  I pitied their fun.

Some complain that there are not tons of marginally-better-than-the-last-one items as rewards in these dungeons.  Once again, that complaint is a selling point for me.  I don’t want massive itemization — it’s just another way of forcing players into the Skinner box.

Are you beginning to understand that I find hidden behavioral manipulations terrible?  I hope so.

Because that’s what I like about the Guild Wars 2 endgame.  It doesn’t pretend.  It is not attempting to insult my intelligence by claiming to have a lot of content to work towards after hitting max level.  It’s saying, “Here is what we have, you can do almost any of it at almost any time, and there’s a lot of variety.  If you enjoy it, do it all, and repeat the parts you enjoy.  As you complete each part we’ll reward you by showing you clear progression towards a goal.  We will not take these goals and hide them behind Skinnerian conditioning, forcing you to press that lever indefinitely.  We will tell you exactly when that lever press will give a reward.”

And that’s damn refreshing.  Well, that is, it’s refreshing if you see the Skinner box for what it is — a con.  It’s not refreshing if you’ve allowed yourself to be convinced that endgame must be a single piece of content repeated indefinitely in hopes of a reward that leads only to repeating another piece of content indefinitely.  If you’re willing to do that without knowing when the end will be, why in the world would you be upset that you can do any content in any order and know exactly when the end will be?

Conditioning.  This popular dismissal is yet another example of people stuck in ruts, unable to see the walls that create the rut, insisting that the rut is the entirety of the world.

Just some brief Thursday morning snark

People ask the most absurd questions in general chat in MMOs, questions that just scream “learned helplessness.”

From Guild Wars 2:

“As a weaponsmith, when will I be able to use silver?”  Gee, I dunno, but to find out, I would simply leave my mouse pointer over the item for a fraction of a second and it would tell me, jackass, so why don’t you go ahead try that for yourself?  In this case, it took me less time to find out than it took him to type the question.  The answer: never.

“Where’s the best place for copper?”  Since you must have been looking while you were playing, you must have noticed, like everyone else, that it appears in the lower level zones.  Even if you find a clump, it doesn’t respawn quickly, so shut up and wander around.  There is no magic infinite copper cave that everyone knows about but you.

“When should I upgrade my weapons?”  This one was a hoot, because it took chat about ten or twenty questions just to identify what the person meant by upgrade.  In this case, he meant “replace with one that is more powerful,” as opposed to actually upgrading, which is a game mechanic.  The answer: when you feel you need to.  When else?

“What attributes should I look for on my equipment?” The ones that support the way you play, genius.

Clearly I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

 

Guild Wars 2: GW2 and Me

Where do  I stand with GW2?  Playing it still clearly, and probably for some time to come before I exhaust the content, based on my current pace.  I have five characters, four if you only count the ones I’ve advanced.  They are levels 26, 12, 9, and 8.  Even the number of alts really doesn’t entirely explain my slow pace — but Glitch is still my main game, and there’s not a day of gaming that hasn’t seen me check into Glitch.   And not out of some sense of obligation — GW2 is a lot of fun and has some fascinating stories, but I feel much like I do standing in the center of a busy city.  All alone among thousands.

I’ve seen very few conversations come about in local chat — and map chat is absolutely inane and idiotic more often than not.  The game itself does not create compelling reasons to meet and interact, socially, with others.  Events create interaction, but without any social aspect.

For example, the other night I was killing undead something or other in a swamp with my main, a Sylvari Engineer.  Typical of a theme park MMO, I was solo, pulling enemies one or two at a time, working on a “heart,” the GW2 version of quests.  I could see one or two other players within “draw” distance, but while we would occasionally, and wordlessly, help each other out, we mostly stayed out of each other’s way.  Then, on the minimap, the swamp becomes surrounded by an orange line, and text, the equivalent of a quest tracker, comes up telling me the undead are trying to form an army, asking me to help break it.

Immediately, the two other players in my vicinity becomes 5, then 10, then tops out somewhere around 15.  And working side by side, we take out the army before it can form.  Without speaking to each other, without spamming chat with “lfm” followed by more strange acronyms, we have spent about 10 minutes in something resembling raid level content.  I say resembling because there’s no coordination, no lead on tanking, and no healers watching our backs.  But stories like this one pepper my play experiences with all four of my characters.  All of them have been part of groups taking down something big and dangerous before they even reached level 10.

That’s pretty damn cool.

Putting that aside, it works as a single player game better than any other MMO I’ve played, including SWTOR.  The questions answered during character creation have a real effect on how the story line plays out, including at least one question I thought would matter the least.  Allow me to explain:

With five character slots, and five races, it seemed natural for an altaholic like me to create one character for each race.  My second character was a Norn Thief.  I say was because I decided I could not stand the thief profession, and after reaching level 11 with him, decided to give him a quiet death and replace him with a Norn Elementalist.  Going back through the character creation process again, I answered every question exactly the same, intending to get the same story to be able to continue it once I caught back up.  When I got to the part about the character’s disposition, however, I answered differently, thinking little would be affected.  But while the story has followed a similar path, with the same problem to solve and the same characters involved, entire story missions have been completely different simply because I made this Norn prefer his fists over his charm.  The way he approaches the problem reflects that answer, despite that the actual elements of the problem have not changed.  I’m tempted to spend a lot of money buying character slots and make a Norn character with every possible combination of answers to the character creation questions, just to see how much variety can be found from a single character race.

Not going to happen: I have enough on my plate with the slots the game comes with.

Between story, exploration, and events, most people seem to be running about doing their own thing.  There really seems to be no obvious way to meet people in the game.  Seems my only option would be to join every guild spamming chat or sending random invites.  Those tend to be the guilds I don’t want to join, but at least with GW2 I can join all of them, at the same time, and check them out.

I had originally planned to apply to Inquisition and play with those folks, and I might still do that.  But I seem to be in this small population of GW2 players whose machines should be able to run this game without issue but are having a lot of issues.  I could run Skyrim at medium settings with respectable framerates.  I could run it at ultra and not crash or lock up, but animations looked a bit choppy as the fps would fall to around 20.

In GW2, no matter the level of the settings, even at the lowest, I am rarely getting fps over 20.   And in WvWvW, the element I assume INQ, as a PvP focused guild, is most fond of, I am getting even lower framerates. At one point, it actually said one.  One frame per second.  Someone could run a few circles around me and end up standing where they started in one second, and my screen would not even show them move.  Not really fun, at all.

I plan to give things a bit of time to slow down over there, then start hitting the support department with “hey, what gives?” emails.  I seem to not be alone and cannot find any consistency about the issue.  It’s not just Nvidia users, though we had it the worst until the latest drivers.  And it’s not just people with two year old video cards like me — I’ve read claims of systems with current generation video cards getting around 30 fps.  Given server transfers are free right now, I’ve wondered if moving to one of the new ones would show an uptick in performance, if the fps issue could possibly be related to the number of people logged in and playing simultaneously.  I have no idea if that even makes sense, but I’m loathe to leave my server knowing I’d be unlikely to get back to it.

In my next few entries on GW2, I’m going to have a bit of fun and just talk about my characters, their stories (probably with spoilers), and what I enjoy about playing with each.

Coming soon: probably a post about Glitch, and definitely a post, maybe even a series of posts, about my ideal vision of a “next gen” MMO.

Guild Wars 2: Dynamic Events are Ghost Stories

When I was a little Sauce, I wasn’t a fan of horror movies.  My parents would not stop me from watching them and tried instead to warn me away, but of course I knew better than my parents as soon as I could walk and insisted on watching the end of one with them, burning myself with nightmares and a permanent inability to let anything touch my eye.

Ghost stories were scary enough for me.  Around second or third grade, I became both frightened and obsessed with a movie called Lady in White (imdb).  In this movie, there are a pair of ghosts whom nightly reenact the circumstances that led up to their death.  They go to the same locations, follow the same path, have the same conversations, and inevitably, they both end up dead at the bottom of the same cliff.

In Guild Wars 2, I’ve met a lot of these ghosts, frozen in time, doomed to repeat certain circumstances in the exact same locations with the exact same companions for all of eternity.  Or until the servers turn off at least.  Oh sure, as Syncaine points out, the events are stuck in victory mode, but he’s probably right as well that later they will be stuck in failure mode instead.  In Lady in White, the main character eventually breaks the cycle by finding the killer.  But instead of switching from a murder event chain to a confronting the killer event chain, the ghosts, and the narrative, move on.  The poor ghosts of Guild Wars 2 will never have that freedom.

GW2 is the best theme park MMO that I have ever played, and it has addressed a number of the minor annoyances that made me run quickly from most theme park games.  But it’s still a theme park, and dynamic events hammer that point home.  They’re the absolute lowest point of the uncanny valley.  They’re clunky, plastic, animatronic Abraham Lincolns giving the Gettysburg address at quarter past every hour for bored, sweaty, easily distracted tourists that only caught the speech at all because it started while they were sucking down hot dogs and soda before moving on to the next ride.

We’ve reached MMO 2.5, the refinement of the second generation.  And I feel part of that refinement is the acknowledgment that this style of game doesn’t deserve a subscription fee.  There’s not enough variety in the play mechanics and systems, there’s not enough variety in the ends, not enough variety in the game’s motivations to create social groups to retain players, to convince them to pay that entry fee for a long period of time.

What there is, instead, is a large variety of content and a respectable variety of game modes.  And while the stories told by the content are varied and often interesting, they all utilize the same underlying systems and feed into a predefined progression.

And while that’s provided for a heck of a lot of fun, the subscription model still hangs over most developers as a proverbial carrot on a stick, an admittedly attractive carrot made out of millions of $15 payments dependably arriving every month.

Getting that subscription out of me again is going to take a 3rd generation MMO.  Declaring something as a “next gen” MMO is going to take something else.  More on that another time.

Still, it’s pretty