(What) Were They Thinking?

I just ran into what has to be the buggiest piece of software... ever. Bear in mind that I predate DOS games and have had experience getting games to run in Win 3.1 and even Win ME--some of them games that push the limit of the "Minimum Recommended System Requirements". Maybe time has softened old wounds, but nothing in my  memory comes even close to the horror that is Dark and Light. Seriously. Couple all those bugs with the worst "support" I can remember and you get an experience that is simply best forgotten. Or better, best never begun.

I mean, I've been in alpha tests that were smoother and more consistent. Who ever heard of a launcher that breaks when IE 7 is installed? Seriously, what dependency does your license query have that will hang just because a user has installed IE 7? How does an upgrade to IE 7 cause a simple dialog box with "Accept" and "Decline" buttons on it to consume 80% of my CPU capacity indefinitely (or at least, for the 25 minutes I allocated for what-the-heck-let's-see-what-happens time)? Also, what company posts a message to their support forums that says merely "the devs say they have fixed this" and then nothing more for weeks when it remains, obviously, unfixed?

And here's the thing: even once I got it working (on an older machine--that's right, a game where I had to effectively downgrade my system to get it to run), the game is possibly the worst MMO I've ever played. I admit that I didn't play long before wiping the travesty off my network. Still, that's going to leave a lasting worst-case benchmark for some time to come.

It's not just that it'd be an insult to High School students to say that it's as if the quests were written by one. It's not just that the translation into English (I'm guessing from French due to the number of prepositional insertions involved) could have been done better by the junior varsity football team after a particularly boisterous homecoming celebration. It's not just that key marketing features were mentioned enough by quest NPCs to be intrusive (mentioning how "big" the world is that often leaves me wondering what they're compensating for). And it's not even just the most generic recycled noob monsters imaginable (seriously, rats, badgers, and bees, oh my! And I suspect the badgers were a desperate late addition, inserted by scaling the rat and giving it a different label).

It's that when you take all these together with a game offering fairies as a playable race, you just know that you have reached depths of crap that will (hopefully) never be repeated in my lifetime. It's like a bunch of executives sat down around a table and generated a list of "features" that they could create to take advantage of this great new kind of game the kids are all playing these days and then went out and hired the cheapest programmers they could find to design and implement it. Seriously, if I were a programmer on that project, I'd slip that one down the ole memory hole and invent some lie to put on my resume in its place--something more respectable like, say, time in the state penitentiary for koala bear poaching.

To entice people into this crap-pile, the publisher has introduced a "Discovery Mode" where you can play to level 10 for free. That's an indication of desperation, make no mistake. I feel for the (possibly) earnest people who put this thing together, but it has to be acknowledged as one of the bigger wastes of money ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting planet. I'd like to say something snide about it being a French production, but seriously, you'd think that'd be enough punishment on its own.

UPDATE: If for some inexplicable reason you have inflicted D&L on yourself and need something to redeem the entire clone concept, Shamus Young has an interesting post on a Diablo II clone that doesn't suck.

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5. January 2007 20:06 by Jacob | Comments (2) | Permalink

It Takes One to Know One

Jack Thompson (unhinged anti-gaming activist attorney) shows that his capacity for self-parody is boundless. Here's his fax to the makers of Bully, a game scheduled for release shortly:

Take-Two has until five o’clock p.m., Eastern time, Monday, August 14, 2006, to inform me in writing that it will forthwith provide me with a copy of Bully so that I and others can analyze it to determine whether it still poses a threat of copycat violence in our schools (See Miami-Dade School Board’s unanimous Resolution), or the following will occur:

I shall file a lawsuit against your respective companies to stop the game’s October 1 release.

If I were Take-Two, my whole response would be "It takes one to know one, Jack." Or maybe a retail box that contains only a hand-mirror. The thing is, you just know that Jack is going to sue them regardless of anything they do. They may as well get a dig in while they can.

 

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16. August 2006 11:36 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Addiction and Self-Interest

Some busy-body is trying to create a new mental disorder of "Game Addiction." Now, there may be those who play games too much. They may even need professional help. but I have a couple of problems with this Dr. Orzack and what she is trying to do.

Obvious Self-Interest

My first issue is the same one I had back in 1998 and 1999 with the wide-spread Y2K hysteria. Talking with experts who have an obvious self-interest in an issue is problematic (at best). The first tip-off that this is a problem in the analysis is her "estimation" that some 40% of World of Warcraft players are addicted. It's hard to figure how she has arrived at this number. She goes from mentioning that WoW has around 6 million subscribers and moves right into the 40% figure. Is it de facto addictive because it is popular? Or is 40% what you'd expect to find for any game? Or just for online games?

I can't help doing the money math here. If there are over a million people with this addiction and she is busy setting herself up as the expert who can cure it, that constitutes a pretty significant bid for patients. It bugs me that the media is so credulous in these things. I mean, in a world where journalists were actually, you know, capable of rational thought, the headline might have read "Psychiatrist seeks millions of new patients". I mean, the interviewer was sharp enough to do the math, but seems to have bypassed considering the implications inherent in such a radical statement.

Further, rational thought would have pointed out the blatant anti-business bias displayed by Dr. Orzack (I find myself fighting the impulse to use scare quotes every time I use her title)--a bias that leads to some really bad claims of intent. What, exactly, does she think that Blizzard gains from having players who are addicted? In other words, why would anybody want to design an online game that is addictive? She doesn't seem to have thought about the fact that MMORPGs are inherently different from other types of games because they carry an incremental increase in cost based on use. Indeed, in my opinion the reason that Blizzard is such a success is because they actively court more casual players. That is certainly a key to my own continued play. It's a classic win-win where the casual players have a game that is fun without needing to be connected 24/7 and Blizzard collects their monthly subscription for an account that uses fewer resources than hard-core players use. If anything, business self-interest would seek content that keeps people interested enough to maintain their subscription, but not so interesting that players feel they have to be logged in all the time or risk missing the good stuff.

In fact, when stated like that you can see ways that Blizzard is taking pains to reduce the need to be logged in. Periodic monthly events (as opposed to random and constantly changing events) for example, encourage you to drop in when you have time. The Auction House is great for selling stuff without having to be logged in--as the in-game email system enables you to transfer money and items to friends without having to be online at the same time. People don't feel that they're missing an opportunity that might otherwise pass them by. Aggregating a number of servers for battlegrounds is another example. If I have a greater chance of getting into a battleground any time I want to, I'm not going to be hanging out during peak hours hoping to find one open.

Online Community

Another difference you have to be careful of in an MMORPG is the "MM". When I was tempting a friend of mine into EverQuest (back in the day), I had had enough experience to give him a simple warning. I'd gone through a couple of guild tantrums so I prepared him by telling him "don't let anybody tell you this is just a game." Yeah, you're playing a game, but never let yourself forget that those are other people on the other end of the connection. The relationships you'll build online will have many of the same characteristics of relationships anywhere else. You'll form emotional ties, good and bad, with those people. And don't forget that your actions will affect other live human beings--which means that there are not insignificant real moral dimensions in your dealings with them as well.

Which is why I don't see the problem when Dr. Orzack says "[one] 18-year-old individual was miserable. He didn't get along with any of his family members and kept withdrawing into the game." An 18-year-old in a painful family situation seeking another community seems like a natural (and possibly healthy depending on the family situation--in this case a divorce and related trauma) thing to me. This privileging of face-to-face community is suspect to me and not just because I'm something of a recluse myself. After all, in-person communities aren't all beneficial. I'd much prefer that a troubled teen find himself mugging murlocks in Hillsbrad Foothills (I hate those things) than some shopper in a parking lot.

By ignoring that playing MMORPGs necessarily means being connected to other people, Dr. Orzack ignores things that contradict her addiction hypothesis. After all, I'm not seeing a huge difference between someone joining a football team and signing up to play World of Warcraft. If the only difference is sweat, injury, and public exhibition, then I fail to see the danger in playing MMORPGs. I don't know, maybe she considers High School sports programs addictive as well. Or maybe she would if she thought she could con credulous parents into forking out her hourly rate to treat it...

 

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9. August 2006 13:59 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

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