Ever, Jane: Mansfield Park and MMORPGs

Every MMORPG I’ve ever played has had murder as a basic and essential game mechanic. Need to complete a quest, advance a level, acquire an item? Better go kill a dozen wolves/bandits/pirates/mages so that you can get enough exp/gold to… buy more powerful weapons and kill stronger wolves/bandits/et cetera. Even in Lord of the Rings Online’s Shire area has kill quests – there are hobbit-suited quests like delivering mail and avoiding nosy neighbors, but there are also assignments to kill bears and slay wolves, even if the books themselves say it’s been generations since wolves appeared in the Shire. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this style of gameplay, but it’s become so ingrained into the MMO experience thatI I’ve come to assume it’s essential.

Enter Ever, Jane, an online roleplaying game currently in open Beta that is based on the novels of Jane Austen.

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The village of Tyrehampton. Screenshot from Ever, Jane.

Yes, Jane Austen. Set in Austen’s vision of early 19th-century Regency England, Ever, Jane allows players to create a character who – instead of climbing levels and increasing their strength, defense, HP, and other familiar stats – will develop traits called Status, Happiness, Kindness, Duty, and Reputation. Instead of kill quests, players may embark on ‘stories’ with or without the help of other players. As the game’s website says, “It’s not about kill or be killed but invite or be invited. Gossip is our weapon of choice. Instead of raids, we will have grand balls. Instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties.”

 

Unlike Lord of the Rings Online, where roleplaying is only encouraged and required on specific servers, roleplaying appears to be the heart of Ever, Jane: players are encouraged to stay in-character at all times, build storylines with other players, and adhere to role-playing etiquette. However, the game’s stories and character traits introduce more traditional elements of gameplay that players of other MMORPGs might expect. Balls and dinner parties act like special events (or exclusive dungeons) where a player must meet certain requirements to enter; mini-games will simulate era-appropriate pastimes which help increase stats. Instead of slaying your enemy in PvP, you can ruin their reputation with gossip.

I was impressed with the creators’ passion to translate the experience of Jane Austen novels into a gaming experience — especially an MMO. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for instance, lends itself easily to action and adventure. To adapt Austen’s works the creators needed to challenge the basic notions of what an MMORPG is and cut away the stereotypes of the medium to get to the heart: community.

An online game based around Jane Austen novels might sound like a niche product, but it’s a niche with an enthusiastic fan base: during the game’s Kickstarter campaign, 1,600 backers pledged $109,563. As the game passes through its Open Beta and into full launch, it will be interesting to see which classical MMORPG elements will be integrated and altered to suit the game’s goals and which won’t be invited to the dinner party.

Cavafy’s “Ithaca” and The Video Game Arms Race

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Don’t get caught up in this damn World of Warcraft arms race,” he told me. “You’ll only lose sight of why you enjoy the game in the first place.”

He was referring to the fact that in World of Warcraft, a game that we played together when I was younger, the developers constantly released new, awesome material that required your constant attention and dedication in order to master. A lot of this came in the form of high end “gear,” or equipment that would grant bonuses to a player’s abilities. Once you got towards the end of the new content, you might get diminishing returns on your investment in terms of stats, but it was still noticeable, and a lot of players still grind out countless hours for the sake of becoming a tiny bit stronger. I was one of those players.

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Though my old account has long since been deleted, this is some of the stuff I was working with. You tend to have a lot of free time when you get grounded as a teenager, and oh lord could WoW use every bit of it. There was a never-ending stream of items, equipment, skills and mounts to obtain and master. I’d spend a lot of time going through the same dungeons and events over and over in the hopes of getting some gear that I hadn’t gotten yet, half for my own abilities in the game and half for pride.

My dad would notice my reaction when I’d lose some sort of achievement that I wanted, and he’d usually get on me for not enjoying the game itself. You know, cuz that’s kinda the point of a game. I’d spend most of the time that I played with my dad looking forward to simply getting loot, losing track of what was most valuable about that time with my dad.

One of our favorite dungeons was called Karazhan; it was an old castle filled with all sorts of magic creatures and haunting spirits who held strong items and fun challenges.

This is but one of them, as our heroes attempt to defeat the actors in the play. The play changes between three random options, and in this one they try to defeat the Big Bad Wolf as he spontaneously chases random members of their party, who are designated as “Little Red Riding Hood,” all the while screaming “Come here little girl!”

Totally fun, right? I missed out on a lot of the pure enjoyment of the game because I was too concerned with the end result. Another good example comes from the final boss of Ulduar, an ancient Dwarven city dedicated to the mystical Titans who created this world.

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Besides the innovative combat, the stunning location and graphics, and the numerous challenges present for players, Ulduar offers some of the most expansive and immersive lore that I’ve ever encountered as a gamer. Hours of gameplay must be dedicated to reach this point, and we are given a lot of incredible story line along the way that culminates in our showdown with Yogg-Saron. This encounter is both extremely challenging and totally fun, but I spent most of this time worrying about what loot he was going to drop.

Had I not, I might have enjoyed the game as it was meant to be played. I couldn’t tell you now all the stuff that my characters possessed in this game, or even how much time I spent acquiring it. However, I can’t describe the nostalgia that I got when looking up videos to put in this blog. Each of them brought back individual memories with my dad, or they reminded me of how much fun I had immersing myself in one of the great games of our time.

This is all to say that we should take the message of Cavafy’s “Ithaca” to heart, especially in gaming. If we start to stress too much about the end goals of the game, or keep chasing minor achievements and a minuscule leg up on other players, then we start to lose the reason that we play games like this in the first place.

Lord of the Rings Online- An… Experience

Playing Lord of the Rings Online has been an… interesting experience for me.  I am no stranger to video games and MMO’s, but LOTRO provided an experience that was both new and familiar at the same time.

Starting up the game, I designed a character, a DPS character like usual since that is the build I prefer.  When the game started, I was interested in the tutorial and intro quests.  I hadn’t experienced an MMO that started the player in the game in such a way.  It made the game feel very story-based, filled with narrative and character and plot; a feeling that most MMO’s fail at inspiring.

Unfortunately, once the Tutorial and Intro quests ended, it became an experience far more like those of a traditional MMO, such as WoW.  I was impressed at the recreation of Tolkien’s world.  It felt very solid and complete, like I had actually stepped into Middle Earth.  Unfortunately, the game began to suffer in other ways.  Once reaching Bree, the player is exposed to what I am calling quest-bloat- the experience wherein a large amount of quests become available all at once.  This is an issue I have with many open-world games, and especially MMO’s.  I like to complete every quest I can, or do everything else I can, before continuing the main quest-line.  In this case, this has caused the game to grind to a more-or-less complete and utter halt.

Another issue with LOTRO is the pay-to-play and pay-to-win mechanics.  You have to pay to unlock basic necessities such as extra bag space and other things.  It feels a bit unfair to those who are unable to pay real money and makes the game just a slight bit less fun.

I guess I started out really enjoying the gameplay and ideas that were put into LOTRO and became just a bit disappointed when it started to resemble traditional MMO-fare.

~Nathanial Edwards~

LOTRO: A Test of Patience

While I revel in the ability to run around for hours in a virtual environment while still convincing myself that I’m being productive, I must say that it has gotten to be a bit tiresome at times. My one biggest complaint about LOTRO is that there is just
so
much
running.

I picked up the controls to the game very quickly and I have enjoyed juggling the various quests I taken on; however, again and again I find myself just running back and forth between the various areas in this vast world of the game.

Now, I do appreciate how that adds to the experience of the game as well as contributes to the narrative. It enhances that sense of journey–of being just a tiny figure in this massive world. It goes along with the long and tiresome journeys we read about in the novel. With this being said, my patience runs rather thin when it comes to video games and I would rather not spend a significant portion of the time just running from location to location.
I did recently learn about the auto-run key, so that along with riding horses has eased my frustration on the matter, though the quests are still often more a test of my patience than anything.

I’ve only come across one quest so far that was even remotely challenging. I had to sneak around these goblin-like creatures and pick off one or two at a time in order to finally reach and kill the Goblin Chief. I later realized that this quest was definitely meant to be conquered with a partner or team, but I still enjoyed the challenge of taking it on by myself. Other than that, my quests have mostly been a matter of taking the time to run and find or deliver various objects or creatures. But maybe I just need to get to a higher level first.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed exploring this enormous world; however, I’m just hoping that as I progress, the challenges and quests will become much less wearisome than they have been thus far. I also really look forward to being able to work with the other players on quests and toward a shared goal, as I have yet to experience that.

– Logan W

To War – Reflections on Lord of the Rings Online

What would Tolkien have said about LOTRO? I wish we can know. Because this is one heck of a way to explore the rich mythology Tolkien has created.

In the familiar trilogy, the story is mainly focused on the Fellowship of the Ring and its adventures during the War of the Ring. However, given that there is a full-scale war going on, what happened everywhere else? Did the elves, humans, and dwarves  just sat around and waited for Gandalf and Aragorn until the few momentous battles occur at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith? LOTRO seeks to fill this gap, and I think it did a very good job of it, so far.

I have played LOTRO  briefly once before, but for some reason I found the narrative so much more engaging this time around. The story line of the epic quests provided a nice view of the beginning of the War from a fresh perspective, of forces from both sides working to gain more advantage (aside from fighting for that one magic bullet, that is) for the looming War. These forces included many elven guardians, dwarf champions, human vagabounds, unlikely hobbit warriors, Southern raiders, local scoundrels, ring-wraiths and many more. These narrative made Middle-Earth so much more lively and colorful, providing details I have never imagined in, for example, Bree before. It is also nice to see characters, places, and events mentioned in the original material and see many characters come to life and fleshed out. I felt a pang of excitement and urgency while helping Aragorn in ensuring the safety of Bilbo and company, could not help but feel alone and confused trekking the Old Forest, and stood in mild confusion talking to Tom Bombadil.

Aside from the narrative perspective, playing LOTRO has been a fairly standard MMORPG, where target selection is done by clicking the mouse, and extra abilities are with pressing progressively large numbers of buttons. While this in itself is not a huge problem, it does show that Turbine (LOTRO’s maker) did not try very hard in pushing the envelope or challenging RPG conventions (many of which are set by another MMORPG, World of Warcraft). Granted LOTRO was created in 2007, fairly early in the history of MMO games, Turbine could have made more effort in designing a better tutorial, for instance.

All in all, I feel LOTRO is a great MMO game, despite certain shortcomings. It has great narrative, amazing world-building, and serves as a great exploration of the original material. While the gameplay itself is not very innovative, it plays smoothly and is, most importantly, fun. I believe I will continue to play LOTRO and slowly make my way through the epic quest line, if only to see what happens to Skorgrim, push towards Angmar, take on a Balrog, and even participate in Helm’s Deep (soon-to-be-released).

-SyC

Of Nether Rays and Infernals

When I heard the blog topic for this week, my mind jumped in excitement at all the possibilities. However, this elated feeling quickly evaporated once I realized how difficult the choice would be for me, making me carefully consider the pros and cons of all of my top choices. Eventually, I decided upon my final choice, the world of World of Warcraft.

To begin, I choose this world partially because of my persistent fascination with medieval-style combat, weaponry, and magic.  To live in world that contains all of these features and relies heavily upon them would be extremely exciting and consistently interesting.  In addition, I would enjoy practicing combat skills all day long, attempting to get stronger and better each day.

However, I mainly choose this world for another reason. The world is constantly in peril from nefarious forces such as dragons, the undead, and a legion of infernal monsters. Even though this may not seem to be a very appealing world to live in, I believe that the inherent danger in the world makes it all the more appealing to me. To elaborate, the inherent danger would create a strong sense of purpose and appreciation for life, something I believe has been somewhat lost in modern society. Everything one would do in this world could affect the fate of the entirety of the world, giving true meaning to this life. Moreover, fighting against the evil legions assists the citizens of the world, bettering their lives and making their world a safer place. This sense of duty and helping others would be very rewarding, especially because one would be saving their lives rather than simply helping them.

On a lighter note, it would also be extremely fun to be able to fly on giant, winged creatures like the dragons and nether rays available in this world.  Although we can fly on airplanes in our world, it wouldn’t even compare with the thrill of flying on a colossal beast barreling through uncharted lands. Speaking of uncharted lands, this world is filled with dangerous, beautiful, and widely varying landscapes that contain a plethora of interesting creatures. If I were able to explore these regions in my own body, I doubt much could compare to the thrill of finding new and exciting places everywhere I went.

Last, the ability to become a craftsman in a variety of magical trades appeals to me greatly. I wish I had the ability to enchant an item to make someone stronger, or craft potions at a whim that would help others succeed at difficult tasks.  If only this were possible, I would choose to live in this magical world in a heartbeat.

-juancarlos284

Michelangelo, Renoir, Turbine?

Although the days where video games are displayed alongside paintings by Dali or Rodin’s Thinker are likely far away, it is not unreasonable to consider them a valid art form.  The amount of creative thinking and talent that is put into creating video games cannot be discounted.  They contain multiple forms of media that most people considers art, with both musical accompaniment and cinematic cut scenes.  Intricate story lines are also a major part of many video games, which are just as artful as many novels.

Many video games can be considered forms of art, but some specific games genres clearly emphasize the artistry aspect more than others.  RPG games with very detailed narratives allow the gamer to enter a fantasy world that is beautiful and captivating, especially in the case of LOTRO.  The visual experience by itself is breathtaking, as the construction of the landscape and the buildings is both sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing.  If that isn’t enough to make it art the creators of the game also provide music that uses tempo and pitch to give the player a more full understanding of the current situation that they face.  The music alone is very good and would suffice as art, but instead it adds dimension to the game that further qualifies it as an art form.  The detailed nature of each quest is a piece of art in its own right, as many different creative pieces are put together to make it work fluidly.

On the other hand some games can be seen as a blank canvas for the gamer to create their own masterpiece on because of the level of interactivity that they provide.  Games like Age of Empires and Zoo Tycoon offer the player to piece together their own landscape with endless possibilities.  Even sports games like FIFA can be played in ways that could be considered artful by fans and enthusiasts.  The interfaces themselves may not be considered works of art but they can be used creatively to produced pieces of art themselves.

Some people may argue that there are many tasteless and unimaginative video games that ruin the genre’s chances of being considered a form of art.  While there are clearly games out there that are not exactly masterpieces, the same is true of most all other forms of art.  Not all paintings are the Mona Lisa, nor do all authors write like Dickens.  A few bad apples should not be considered representative of the entire art form that is gaming.

-George de Roziere