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.

lock-image

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.

th

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.

Advertisements

Silumni, Easily Lost

A lot of my fellow posters have been talking about Braid, which is a fantastic puzzle-platformer that absolutely deserves to be talked about.  However, I thought that I should change it up a bit and instead talk about the other game that we’ve played in this class so far: LOTRO, or Lord of the Rings Online.

LOTRO is an MMORPG, or a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  As such, many (but not all) see role-playing as an important component of playing these types of games.  While I don’t necessarily get into the social aspect of role-playing (as can be seen most commonly on the role-playing required servers of LOTRO), I do think that creating a character who is an interesting, complete individual in and of themselves is an integral part of enjoying RPGs.  Therefore, as a thought exercise, I would like to introduce all of you to my Elven Loremaster, Silumni.

The Lord of the Rings Online™ 9_1_2016 9_19_43 PM

Here she is.  Isn’t she great?

In all seriousness, creating a complete character in LOTRO is a bit harder to do than in other RPGs that I have played, such as Bioware’s Dragon Age series or even Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, simply because those games gave me dialogue choices that help me cement my character’s personality traits and even parts of their backstories without me having to really devote time outside of the game to thinking about my character, something that LOTRO does not do.  This doesn’t necessarily make LOTRO bad for role-playing; it just means that creating a whole character is a bit more front-heavy.  I can’t just figure it out as I go.

Because of this, a lot of the character choices I made for Silumni were made in the character starting screen.  For example, her name is not actually related to Tolkien’s works at all (mostly because any interesting Tolkien-related names have already been used by the thousands of players who have come before me).  Instead, “Silumni” is the Sylvan word for animal-according to one site on the internet, at least.  Since I knew I wanted Silumni to be a pet-based Loremaster, this seemed fitting for her character. I also chose to have her be from Rivendell, which is surrounded by nature.  This helped me create a character who loved nature and the animals found within it more than even Radagast the Brown, if such a thing were even possible.

I from this point on, I tried to make my in-game choices show Silumni’s love of nature.  For example, the Elven hair choices in this game are surprisingly varied, given how long this game has been out.  I purposely avoided the more “cultivated” hair options-the ones that included hair decorations or intricate braiding.  Instead, I gave her the roughest-looking hair I could find, since she would be almost exclusively hanging around animals who wouldn’t really care about the state of her hair.  I also made her an “Explorer,” a crafting vocation focused on going out into nature to find natural resources.  This also allowed me to craft the absolutely beautiful armor you can see on her in the picture.

Honestly, that’s about all I have when it comes to Silumni’s character.  I still need to give her an interesting personality, even if I won’t necessarily use it when questing.  I know that her character isn’t totally loyal to Tolkien’s works, but I really wanted to give her a unique personality, and I didn’t want to be limited to the fairly strict limitations Tolkien puts on his elves.  What do you guys think? Do you have any helpful comments on where I should take her personality, or is there any constructive commentary you could offer me?  Thanks for reading!

Me? I’m a Gamer.

As far as words go, “play” and “game” seem pretty similar, right? Almost interchangeable? I mean, they’re nowhere near as different as, say, “giraffe” and “asparagus”. Now those are two words with very different definitions.

However, all giraffes aside, are “play” and “game” really as similar as they seem? Let’s try changing it up a bit. What about comparing “playing” versus “gaming”? “Player” versus “gamer”? Maybe you can’t pinpoint exactly why, but saying “I’ve been playing all day” doesn’t quite sound the same as “I’ve been gaming all day”. However close the words may seem, the connotations have their differences.

The word “play”, for instance, implies fun and entertainment. The word itself seems lighthearted and joyous, the very opposite of serious work requiring focus and effort. Play should be silly and fun- it’s riding your bike with friends, running around the jungle gym, or rolling the dice on your favorite board game. You play because you want to have fun, and that’s that.

How, then, does gaming differ? One can certainly “play a game”, which implies using any game, electronic or otherwise, for a source of pleasure and entertainment. However, actual “gaming” is not quite the same. As any gamer knows, games are not always purely fun. While they can certainly be used for amusement alone, when one begins “gaming”, he or she becomes immersed not just in the entertainment, but in the challenge. And the challenge…well, it’s not always fun.

You see, “to game” is to transcend the realm of play, to desire more than simple entertainment. In a way, one could compare games to books (relax, anti-gamers, I said compare, not equate). A book can certainly be a form of entertainment, yet no one says “I’m going to go play with my book.” Why? Because books, while often entertaining, provide much more than just a smile and or a laugh. Likewise, gaming provides more than that- it proves engagement, encourages immersion in another world, and spurs on ambition for success.

Think of it this way. In an MMO, if you’re merely completing the fun quests because they make you happy, then you’re playing. If you’ve been trying to defeat that one boss for an hour and you’re so frustrated and angry that you want to throw your laptop off a bridge, now you’re gaming. A gamer’s goal is not mere entertainment. A gamer desires challenge, immersion. A gamer strives for success, whether the path towards it is amusing or, at times, utterly frustrating.

So the next time you’re about to use “play” and “game” in a sentence, stop for a moment and think. Which are you, really? Are you a player?

Or are you a gamer?

 

-The Humblebug

Back in My Day, The Pen Was Mightier Than the Sword.

But with the use of computers (and therefore keyboards) constantly on the rise, this phrase is fairly outdated. Therefore, so us people that still adhere to the power of prose and poetry can keep up with the hipness of the times, I propose an amendment. We will now say, “The wording pwns the swording.” Ignoring the fact that sheer lameness might be worse than being outdated, I would like to take the time to point out that it is simply the terminology and not the literature itself that is outdated.

 

So, you enjoying your LOTRO account? Heck, you enjoying any sort of video game or movie or modern book that employs the use of magic, dragons, wizards, knights, or any other variety of mystical creatures? Go ahead and send props to a guy named Spenser, then. The “older” writers like Tolkien and such totally riffed off him — legitimately and in good fashion, but riffed off him nonetheless. It’s Spenser’s work, The Fairie Queene, which you have to thank for your ability to send a ball of hurling fire from your palm into the face of a charging knight.

 

Granted, Spenser himself worked off of even older dudes like Ovid. Ovid’s the Roman guy who wrote the epic, The Metamorphoses. Don’t confuse him with the German Kafka, who wrote a completely different book by the same name. Don’t confuse Kafka with Kefka, the evil villain from Final Fantasy VI either, for that matter. He’d be insulted and call you an awful vermin. But yeah, even with taking his writing from Ovid and the like, Spenser’s the first who really made an impacting writing with an English Influence rather than translating the actual legends themselves.

 

Now, I often found myself as an outlier in high school due to the fact that I could read Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean Shakespeare was easy for me; much of his writing was quite difficult to muddle through. That being said, Spenser’s difficult level smacks Shakey. I was thoroughly intimidated after reading the first couple stanzas. But once you can get into the flow of reading the lyrical nature of his sonnets, Spenser is fascinating. It’s much the same as putting on some techno music and grinding out some levels on your MMO of choice. After realizing the depths to which his words plunge, it’s no surprise that hundreds of years of literature in multiple genres can be traced almost exclusively back to this one work, The Fairie Queene. Yeah, it’s a tough read. It’s a bloody hell of a read. But bloody hell is what you’re into dark magic and conjuring demons for anyway, right?

What’s the deal with LOTRO cutscenes?

by Theo Dentchev

LOTRO starts off with some beautiful looking graphics, and a cutscene in which Gandalf sits at a fire smoking some pipeweed, telling you a story. Good stuff right?

And then you start playing the game.

In the first cutscene you encounter you’re most likely going to miss at least the first few lines of dialogue before you even realize that you’re in a cut scene. Why, you ask? Because the “cutscene” is just in game characters with text above their heads or in the text box at the bottom left of the screen. Don’t get me wrong, the in game graphics are really nice, great colors, good animations. But they’re in game graphics. Would it have been too much to ask for some cinema-like cutscenes? Or at least some sound instead of having to read dialogue. I mean, using in game graphics makes it so that at times it is difficult to notice immediately that someone else has started talking, and by the time you look to see the text above their head they’re already on to the next sentence. You could of course look at the text box in the bottom left, but then you miss whatever limited visual action might be going on. All in all this provides for a relatively poor form of storytelling.

Then again, maybe I’m just biased. I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the text based rpgs of the early days of gaming. In fact, the issue of my age is compounded by the fact that I didn’t really start playing video games (outside of pokemon on the gameboy color) until 2003 – very recently. And even then I didn’t really play rpgs as much as I did action-adventure games. So I am accustomed to playing games where the cutscenes are cinematic and the characters actually talk. I guess both styles of story telling (cinematic cutscenes and in game cutscenes) provide the same information, and you could understand the story equally well either way, but the presentation makes a huge difference. I will be better able to appreciate a story which I can enjoy and which is easy to follow.

I’m no game designer and have no idea of how difficult it must be, but would it really be that much harder to incorporate cinematic cutscenes into MMOs? Even if it is harder than doing for console games, games like LOTRO are supposed to have a strong focus on storytelling, so wouldn’t it be worth the effort to tell the story better? It would enhance the entire experience of the game, making it more immersing and engaging.

– TD

P.S I just realized that I haven’t gotten very far into the game, and it is still entirely possible there will be other cinematic cutscenes in the future. However, I still condemn the lack of such cutscenes in general, and the use of in game cutscenes instead.

Nightmare Chess and the Hall of Heroes

Though I think of myself as a ‘gamer,’ I have never played very many arcade games. My experience is limited to the Space Invaders machine at the Dave & Busters back home, and one highly unsuccessful attempt to save my cities while playing Missile Command. On the other hand, I have lots of experience with board games. From Monopoly to Nightmare Chess to backgammon to the War of the Ring, board games have been a part of my life since I was very young. And equally present there is another, very different type of game: the online games, those notorious MMOs that so many love to play to the exclusion of all else.

While both are enjoyable, they present very different experiences to their players. The first, obviously, is the real life interaction present in any board game. When you play a game of chess, or Monopoly, or any other traditional board game, you sit across the table from your opponent (s) and interact with them directly–you speak to them, watch them roll dice, and unnerve them when you study the cards you’re holding.  In addition, the vast majority of board games pit players head to head–they are competing directly against one another to win the game. In gamer vocabulary, board games are purely PvP–player versus player.

In contrast, an online game presents no inherent direct interaction. You can’t physically see anyone else who’s playing, or talk to them (with the advent of applications like TeamSpeak and Ventrilo this has changed, though). Players instead interact through their avatars–the characters they create to play in the game. Though the character represents the player in the game’s world and can interact with other avatars and the game’s environment, the avatar is not real and does not compare equally to the face-to-face interaction present in board games. Lastly, online games in general do not force players to play against each other. Even in World of Warcraft, where the conflict between the Horde and Alliance is central to both the world and storyline, players can opt not to fight other players. Most MMOs present head-to-head competition as an option through PvP servers and arenas; however players can instead choose to fight the challenges presented by the game designers in the game (and indeed must if they wish to truly experience the full game, eg. leveling up and completing endgame content). Players are also encouraged to work together through the forming of groups, guilds, and friendships to beat the game. Thus, online games are not primarily PvP focused; instead they present both PvE (player versus environment) and PvP as options for their players, with most of their content being PvE.

Furthermore, board games are almost always rules-based emergence games, where no ‘heavy’ fiction is presented to the player . Board games sometimes provide a ‘light’ fiction along with their rules, like the tycoon fantasy of Monopoly or the battle for Middle Earth presented in War of the Ring, but these are thin veneers and nowhere is the player of a board game subject to the same ‘heavy’ fiction found in online games. Board games focus instead on simple rules that nevertheless provide variations in every game played. Thus, they are emergence games. There is nothing fixed about a board game except the rules–any twists and turns, and especially the outcome of the game, are determined by the players themselves.

Online games are almost the opposite. They rely heavily on fiction, though rules are important as well, and are generally progression based. The fiction of an online game is almost certainly its most important component. The player must suspend at least some disbelief, and enter the world created by the game designers. In this world, there are quests to do, villages to save, mythical swords to forge, and worlds to conquer. But, in any online game you’ll find that there’s a certain order to these many tasks. Before you can conquer the world, you have to forge the sword, but to do that you’ll have to save the village, but before you can save the village you’ll have to do some errands for the townspeople to gain their trust. Online games present a story, a predetermined path for you to walk, and are therefore strongly fiction and progression based. You can only do the quests they allow you to do, and deviating from the storyline isn’t really possible–should the hero die halfway through, he’ll be resurrected.  If he fails the final boss fight and doesn’t destroy the evil wizard, he can always try again.  There is no emergence aspect to the PvE side of the game. The final outcome doesn’t depend on your actions or the actions of your opponent, like it does in a board game. In an online game, the story always ends the same way.

But, like a board game, an online game could not function without rules. Not only are there rules governing how a player moves about, interacts with objects, and communicates, online games restrict a player’s actions in-game. For example, in Star Wars Galaxies you cannot kill Darth Vader, and in LOTRO Gandalf is equally immortal. Killing either character would drastically change the story each game tells–and so, you cannot attack them. In both types of game, rules play an important part–for indeed, what is a game without rules?

The only real emergence aspect of an online game is its PvP side. In an arena, players learn a set of rules (eg. Movement, special attacks, etc) and play against each other. There’s no story, and though the fiction is heavier than any board game’s, it’s still lighter than the PvE aspect of the game. This is where board games and online games ‘intersect’–in the PvP arena. Here, players of both games have a similar experience in many ways, as some of the trademark characteristics of board games described above display themselves in the virtual world of the online game.

While both the board game and the online game are very different in many ways, they are both fun and enjoyable for the many players who take up their challenges. Their differences merely help to make the world of gaming the dynamic and multifaceted place it is.

So, anyone up for a game of Nightmare Chess? If not, we can always head out to the Hall of Heroes.

Dacia

PS: I totally forgot to post this on time with the math test and everything today….forgive me!! >.< I had it ready yesterday and everything. Oh well, that’s life…

Team #6 – Merlin’s Cave

~ Jim B. and Kyle O.’s Final Project: [Team 6] Merlin’s Cave Exterior / Merlin’s Cave Interior / Merlin

你们好! Hello, all !

Our team was given the first choice of areas and NPCs for our “Faerie Queene Online” design project. After a short reflection, we decided upon the character of Merlin, as well as his cave.

To begin, we needed to construct the exterior of the cave. The goal was to be as faithful as possible to Spenser and the greater lore of Merlin. As such, Kyle scoured the internet and found the supposed location of Merlin’s cave on a map of England. The result: Merlin is believed to have lived near the ocean in the extreme south-west of England. Therefore, in remediating the cave, we started with an ‘outside’ area and added an ocean to the west (not an easy task). Next, we raised cliffs to the north and east of the player spawn point. A “cave entrance” object finished up the area.

The next order of business was to design the actual interior of Merlin’s cave. From the text, our cave needed to be dark, dreadful, and as scary as possible. There needed to be “Feends” (Spenser’s spelling, not mine) throughout the area, as well as ambient sounds of screams, moans, and metalworking. After fighting past a few Feends, the player would finally reach Merlin’s chamber and be able to converse one-on-one with the famous sorcerer. Feends in the immediate vicinity of Merlin would be non-hostile; Spenser tells us that the wizard’s presence inspires deep fear in his fiendish servants. Using a wonderful program known as Microsoft Paint, I drew up a little blueprint for our humble cave:

merlinscaveinterior

As you can now see, we linked the interior and exterior with “Area Transitions” (that was a pain, lemme tell ya). The non-hostile Feends are building Merlin’s wall (see Spenser). Merlin himself waits in the deepest chamber of the cave. Initially, we wanted to create a Merlin that resembled as closely as possible a certain Vanderbilt English Dept. Chair… unfortunately, we failed in that respect. Our Merlin bears no resemblance whatsoever to said professor.

Merlin the NPC is surrounded by an aura, as well as thunder SFX. Kyle has worked long and hard adding each of these details- the man is a NWN2 Toolset master (as far as I’m concerned anyway, the program refuses to work on my computer). During this time, I busied myself writing the conversation script between Merlin and his player-character visitors. Barring Merlin’s first line, the entire conversation rhymes beautifully! I am most pleased with it. <_<; The wizard’s last line is a little screwy; I ran out of ideas around 3:00am.

And there you have it! Merlin’s (most excellent) Cave. 🙂 Designed by Kyle O. and yours truly, Jim B. Hopefully this was a fun read, it had a picture and everything. 😀

And my apologies to you, Ase. I think this is our last blog. 😦

谢谢! Thank you ! 🙂