Wizards Have Terrible Grammar: My Initial Impressions of Wizard101

Wizards do indeed have terrible grammar in Wizard101, though I should note it’s mostly not the fault of the people playing them: it’s mostly due to a draconic chat filter that makes it nearly impossible to speak without finding many of your words replaced by ellipses.

And no, it’s not because I fucking swear all the goddamn time.  I’m not a classless asshole.  I tried to tell the friend I am playing with, a Glitch alum known in Ur-that-was as Beans, Obviously, (yes, the Obviously is part of the name, that’s why it is capitalized, obviously) that a fight had kicked my bum.  Bum would not type out.

Neither would numbers or number words (6 or six, respectively) — which I assume is part of the safety measures intended to keep children from sharing their “friend code” — a code that lets players add someone to their friend list who is not standing next to them, a precaution so that children cannot be sought out by internet strangers, I guess.

But the only real result is that the local chat channels are filled with mangled garbage that passes for English sentences.  For example, if a player needs someone level 6 or above, they type level sixth, as ordinal numbers are not filtered (though the word ordinal is). Their hearts are in the right place at KingsIsle Entertainment, I’m sure.  But as a writer and a once aspiring English teacher, all I can do is contemplate the horrible effect such examples have, an effect that goes above and beyond normal netspeak and produces some really twisted sentence constructs.

As a result of viewing these twisted constructs, I’ve come to find the chat filter completely useless.  The kids seem to find ways around it, so the filter serves no real purpose except as a security blanket for clueless parents.  And a severe roadblock in your average child’s English education.

Oh but the game is fun.  Runs a little more saccharine than my usual taste, but the turn based combat has some interesting tactics that appear to grow more complex with time.  And it works well with a small group of 2 – 4.  The game certainly feels like a Harry Potter MMO without the Harry Potter.  And that makes Beans rather happy and makes Havok likely to join us at some point (do eeeeet).

Beans has progressed to level 10, and I have only reached level 6.  Once I’ve spent a little more time in game, I’ll publish a Wizard101 review about something other than the effect chat filters might have on impressionable young minds.

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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.

Glitch: Musings on the Extremely Rare Items Vendor

I’ve been silent awhile.  Tiny Speck has not been silent with Glitch, but there hasn’t been much for me to write about.  It’s not a game that works well for a play journal — and most of the fun I have there is impossible to explain without sounding completely demented.  But while I’ve stayed mum, they’ve worked bugs, added a simple lowbie quest (quietly), tweaked the UI, extended skill prereqs so that playing the game is even more necessary to advance in the game, added new music to a unique pair of regions that deserved new music, and probably a few dozen other things they haven’t told us because they relate to unreleased content or mechanics.

And rumors are flying about upcoming releases.  And solid confirmations, like stoot letting us know that Potion Making III and Master Gardening are around the corner.

And then, on Thursday, a solitary Glitch was wandering the world and stumbled onto this odd looking fellow:

According to stoot, this shady individual is of the same species as the Smugglers.

He is called the Extremely Rare Items Vendor, and he has some pricey, limited edition goods to sell:

The spigot on the left is 250k, the “Imported” Yeti on the right is 3 million. Previous top dollar items in the game were under 20k.

Although two of the items show as out of stock, they are not unavailable yet.  The total stock has been released gradually, with the first round Thursday evening and the second during the day Friday.  The third and final release has yet to happen.

And there’s a kicker: these items are not just available “for a limited time only,” there will only be a certain number of them in the world.  Period.  There will be 300 of the Yetis, and then they will never be available again.   Which of course makes me happy — I’m all about unique items that you “had to be there” for.  Even better to me that they are rather pointless.  Decorative and amusing, for sure, but they do not affect game play in any way. My recent rant about hating “fairness,” while perhaps off a bit about WoW (that game is annoyingly hard to account for), should make it no surprise that I think this idea was brilliant.  And apparently this is something they will likely do again in the future.

If the vendor is intended to sap some currants from a runaway economy, something many in the community tend to believe, it is at least partially successful.  The first two rounds did indeed drain currants from most of the vets.  But I think the delay between the second and third round has actually encouraged currant grinding:

Here we see my friend Kristen, with her rares on the shelf above her, standing in a pile of yellow seeds gained from constant yellow flower farming and a crap ton of flower shucking. End result? Moar currants.

I’m betting the net result will be for the total currants in the game to go down despite all the grinding, but this vendor has also encouraged players who never cared much about currants to learn how to get them as quickly as possible.  And I know I’m not alone in saying that from now on, if I have less than 6 million, I’ll feel naked.

If it is a currant sink, I think it’s quite possible, and have heard a rumor or two, that there will be new content requiring currants, and they are trying to limit how quickly we run through it or how quickly we flood the market with new resources.  I have no idea if this is true or not, but it seems feasible.  In the past, Rook attacks, which require players to donate items to fight off, have been stepped up before things like street projects released.  

And in the last week or so, Rook attacks are coming more frequently than they have since last fall.  Always possible they are just showing off for the newbies, but also possible they are trying to level out the economy before new content.

Either way, I’m pleased with Tiny Speck for preferring unique and weird over fairness and the “welfare epic” attitude of most of the rest of online gaming.  Huzzah!

Glitch Invites are Go!

The tutorial is up and running.  I can’t actually comment on it as I’ve decided not to watch the videos until I experience it for myself, and Tiny Speck has asked us not to spawn off alts to run it until after they’re done gathering data and so on and so forth.

But if you haven’t experienced Glitch or haven’t played in a long time, I have a number of invites to give away.  Ask in the comments!

If you take an invite, feel free to message me in game and I will send you a few novelty items.  I’m not sure how well-supplied the new tutorial leaves you — if you ask, I will also give you a bag with food and drinks.   The mail system is probably best for that.

Oh Syncaine, why come you on vacation now? A reaction to the 2012 GDCO Award Nominees

Candidate for most innovative game of 2012?  Star Wars: The Old Republic, the game that only claimed to have one innovative feature—full voice overs—but actually didn’t innovate that.  Credit for the first fully-voiced online game must go to DC Universe Online.  And then there’s this convenient little chart outlining their oh-so-innovative character and combat designs.  Wonderful!

Candidate for best online technology?  Star Wars: The Old Republic again!  A game that gimped itself with a bad engine, claimed the “low, medium, high” graphics options were a bug, that there were only supposed to have two settings, but had HD textures in beta has the best online technology!  Never mind either that they claimed HD textures with large numbers of players in the same zone are technologically impossible — they’re the best!

Also nominated for best new online game in 2012, despite having lost most of its launch subscribers by now, and being declared “not one of our top 5 games” by EA, despite costing around 200 million and taking 6 years to develop.

It’s also up for Best Visual Arts and Best Game Design.  Well, its graphics are derivative of WoW’s 2004 graphics, and its game design is derivative of every failed MMO that tried to copy WoW.  Part of me hopes these nominations are jokes, but Glitch happens to be up in these two categories as well.  Glitch has actually earned that nod.

At least they didn’t nominate SW:TOR for best community relations, then I would know it is just a joke.

However, I was not surprised to note that two EAware employees are on the GDCO Awards Advisory Board.

Glitch: Towers

Towers have arrived on the home streets of Ur.  What the hell is a tower?

This is a tower.  Here’s mine with three stories completed and a bit of a KoL reference thrown in

For those not in Glitch, towers are buildings that can be started on players’ home streets and are open to the public.  With the recently added ability to sell items out of Storage Display Boxes, I originally perceived towers as simply serving as shops, but since release I’ve come to see them more as a form of expression, aimed at other players.

I still would love to see them work as functional stores, and to some extent they are functioning now—towers are resource intensive projects, so demand has returned to the Glitch economy—unfortunately, the only in-game support for finding or advertising tower sales is a trade channel.  I’ve been using it, but I’m not a big fan of trade channels.  Without moderation, they are never going to be trade-dedicated, and those that wish the channel to only have trade-related conversations are a source of conflict.   Nobody likes being told to shut up, even if they should shut up.  And as invites are turned back on and when the game goes live, the amount of non-trade chatter will increase, so the amount of conflict will increase.  Never mind that the amount of spam will increase as well — a single trade channel just won’t scale usefully with a larger population.

I’m less concerned about that, however, than I was prior to release.  Even immediately after release, I was still seeing them through lenses shaded by my own game goals and “dreams” of future content.  Through a combination of seeing players use towers in ways other than as a store and through a post from stoot, I stopped thinking of them as virtual malls — at least, I no longer see them entirely as virtual malls.   In response to someone noting that if everyone is a seller there won’t be any buyers, stoot wrote:

 I used to think that way too and then I realized it was missing the point: people like to create the space, choose the name, design the vibe, decorate — if it’s a store, select the merchandise, etc — they want to make something. It’s not intended to fill some hypothetical (or real) economic-systems hole. So, it fails to fill that hole, you can’t really blame it.

I think the word “if” might be missing from that last sentence, but I think the point comes across.  If Tiny Speck were beyond a doubt working to rid the world of vendors and released a road map explaining each step along the way, towers would not be the economic solution intended to fill the gap.  Perhaps a market district, perhaps some other in-game search mechanic, but not towers and the trade channel alone.

As for the idea that people like to make and design spaces, I have to say: he’s right.  Especially when it is a space that strangers will stumble into.  Even I feel the draw of creating something that others can see, and nearly a month passed after the release of housing before I started upgrading furniture for my house.  And while I did turn the first two floors into shops, my new understanding of towers actually inspired me to finish all nine floors—well, to plan to finish all nine floors—rather than call it off early.  I’m filling the top floors with flash fiction stories, trying to use a line from each one to inspire the next one, and perhaps someday decorating the rooms to reflect the stories.

Here’s a shop floor, you can see a bit of my first flash fiction display floor above it.

The tower is, indeed, something to do and a way to express who I am in the world of Ur.  I still hate trade channels, but I’ll complain about economics another day.