A Realm Revisited – Dipping My Toe in Final Fantasy XIV Again

I know a lot of people who have lots of nice things to say about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Lots of people. It’s almost certainly the MMO that gets the most positive buzz from people I know, with WoW coming in second (and Wildstar third, largely because Rhiss loves it to death and I like a lot about it too). That kind of feedback was pushing against the forces keeping me from playing it, including time, Rhiss’ willingness to try it out, my money already being in another MMO… and my previous experience with Final Fantasy XIV.

Yes, I played the first version, in that farce of an open beta they had where they were actively not inviting feedback (so not really a beta at all). That game had without doubt the worst UI of any MMO I’d played, and was full of mistakes that were either amateur hour level, or showed a total disregard for anything the industry had done since WoW came into existence. It was also crash prone, the patcher didn’t work properly, performance sucked, etc, etc…

Nevertheless, eventually the positive feedback on the new release won out, and since I’m not in Wildstar right now, I figured I’d try the free trial. This blog post is on that.

My character talking to an NPC
A few years? Four, by my count

The Return – Shades Of The Original

I didn’t start off impressed.

First of all, I couldn’t get the free trial on my real email address because I had played that open beta for the previous release, back in 2010. I mean, seriously? Alright, I’ll use another email on a fake account. Installation went fine. First launch, I changed data centers to the one Rhiss had also created an experimental character on, and the game crashed.

Second time worked. So I started making a character. I got stuff like this:

ffxiv starting attributes

If it’s telling me the starting attributes for my race selection, I assume they matter in some way. Unfortunately, the game isn’t telling me what those things are. I can decipher four of them easily because they’re fairly standard ones that any tabletop RPG player would know (not that it’s good UX design to assume that knowledge), but what in the world are MND and PIE? One of those is food.

They could have just spelled these things out, and it would have been clearer, but alright. It’s a trial character, these things probably don’t matter a lot.

Then I got to pick a deity. Neat! That came with this:

ffxiv elemental attributes

Did they not learn anything from the UI problems last time around? What in the world are symbols, and what do those numbers do? I have absolutely no idea, to the point that I’m not sure why they are even showing them to me. Is this something for experienced players creating a second character? There’s nothing available on screen to tell me what I’m looking at. Sigh. Oh well, again, it probably doesn’t matter on a trial character.

Final step is picking a world. Rhiss made a test one on Diabolis yesterday, so I tried to do that, and this happened:

ffxiv realm select

I can’t make one on that server because it’s not allowed right now. It was allowed yesterday. So we already can’t play together and we’re just starting. This is really not the start I had in mind. Oh well, I’ll sort that out tomorrow, so I go in…

Damn, This Is Gorgeous!

When I get in, there’s an intro sequence. It’s longer than I’d like before I can do anything, but the dialog and interactions are doing a good job of making me feel like a person in the world and not the chosen one, so I approve. I do a couple of initial tutorial quests, then other people appear, and I see this:

ffxiv nice dress

Wow. Even on my three year old computer, this game is awesome looking. Performance is really good for me. It somehow both has much higher detail than Wildstar AND better framerates. The town looks great, the people looks great, the world looks great… Running around town trying to find things was a joy because everything is so easy on the eyes. That’ll probably fade in time, but wow.

I ran around doing some town fetch quests, then got sent outside to do some stuff. Most of the in game UI annoyances from the original release are gone, and I’m having a relatively painless time figuring out how to do things.  Out for some early combat I noticed that the pacing feels slow and deliberate, especially compared to the chaotic frenzy that Wildstar can turn into. I didn’t mind it, because it feels kind of like WoW and I enjoyed that for years. Plus I’m playing a Conjuror, so I can run around healing other people in the area for fun. One of them was fighting two things at once and I think I helped them out, they threw me a bow afterwards. It’s the little things.

The sound was also pretty good, with little touches like when combat kicked off and such. I ran into a FATE and that played like a rift from Rift. Cool, I liked that system a lot.

It’s Early, So We’ll See

These are pretty early impressions, considering I’m level four and haven’t really done anything. Overall I enjoyed it more than Rhiss did, especially when I was enjoying the world and not dealing with wonky stuff like the character creation issues. It sucks that we can’t group right now, and that it’d take a while to fix that once we find a server we can both get on because of how long the intro area is, but still.

I hope to be able to put more time into it and see how some other things work before the trial runs out. Given that I want to play again, so far the trial did it’s job of selling the game. What a vast improvement from the first time.

Gaming and Community – It’s a very bloggy holiday season!

It’s kind of ironic that a blog about gaming and community is late due to a communication snafu on my part, but here we are. Apologies to everyone, and especially Syl, because I really hate being late. This is me, when I’m late:

Crazy Twilight Sparkle

You can imagine how I felt when I realized I was today, and instead of having done it I was at work and couldn’t. I highly appreciate Syl’s patience. The blogging community sure is great!

Bloggy Xmas Title

I’ve been gaming for pretty much as long as I can remember, which is a very long time. How long? My first console was an Atari 2600. I played Colecovision, Tandy, and all the fun stuff from the past. I remember games on tape. I don’t miss that.

Back then, the community was a bunch of isolated community. Gaming was localized to an area, and the gamers tended to know each other because there simply wasn’t many people to game with yet. The adults didn’t take it seriously for the most part, it was a “kids thing”. That persisted through high school, although the size of the community grew with BBSes, the Internet, and a table in school dedicated to Battletech and Magic: The Gathering.

Today? I don’t think gaming as a community works.

Gaming Is A World

Today, gaming is more like a world. It’s pervasive. Thanks to the original kid gamers growing up and sticking with it, to mobile spreading it everywhere, these days virtually everyone is a gamer. If “D&D is satanism” was the start of a culture war, that war is over. We won. We won so completely that the majority are now with us, even if they don’t use the “gamer” label.

What was the result of that? Gamers mostly argue amongst themselves now. (See: GamerGate.) The interesting thing about that to me is that the same thing happened in the Brony community, at a much faster speed. In the first year of it’s existence, we were mostly figuring out what we were about, and defending ourselves from the outside world going “WTF?” The sense of community in that period was real and strong, because nothing strengthens a community like a common cause and the feeling of an outside force attacking you. Then the world got used to us, and the outside pressure vanished. Come season 3, there was a lot more infighting than in the past, simply because without the outside pressure forcing everyone to band together, the different community groups inside the greater Brony world became less willing to put up with the stuff they didn’t like about the other communities. This covered a bunch of issues, with one of the biggest ones being over what to do about adult fanfiction (known as “clop”), and how that community could coexist with the community who saw it as something to enjoy with their kids and thus a space where such things were intolerable. That’s not one community, that’s two communities trying to peacefully coexist in the same world.

Which is what the gamer world really is – a lot of communities that get along with varying degrees of success. The bad thing is that we get ugly fights that really serve no purpose. The good news is that it’s exactly what happens when anything goes mainstream. There’s nothing particularly wrong with “gamers” just because of that stuff. It’s what humans do when a bunch of communities are all interacting.

Those Communities Are Awesome

If you find the communities that suit your interests, they are awesome. They’re all people out to have fun, or beat a challenge, or unite to kill a raid boss, or win a tournament. They write detailed walkthroughs to help others get through games. They play games and record it to show others how the game works (then get lampooned on South Park). They drop out of the air to lend a hand because they see you got attacked by a bunch of Murloc adds and are in trouble. They hang around a Q&A site answering questions about obscure D&D variant rules. And yes, they even forgive you for a late blog post. 😉

Most of them are open and accepting of pretty much anybody who shares the same interests and fits the culture. If one group doesn’t suit you, there is almost certainly another one that does. This is a hobby that came of age in the Internet era and thrives on sharing, even when the community is for a single player game. Playing alone doesn’t mean you’re actually alone when you’re a gamer. If you have something to share, you have an outlet. If you want to see the creativity of others, you have places to look. If you want to lend a hand to those in need, gamers have spawned some incredible charity efforts. I’m looking at you, Humble Bundle. When that happens, gaming as a community reaches out to the real world community, and it’s awesome.

My Own Gamer Community

If I look around my life, I see an awful lot that I owe to the gaming communities:

  • I met my wife at a LARP, which itself is a pretty funny story of me both saving the town and being entirely oblivious.
  • I met my best friend in World of Warcraft, on Argent Dawn, in a tavern in Stormwind City. A decade later and we’ve reached the point where we play together more often than alone, and coop is a major selling feature on any game.
  • Seemingly half my friends are either met during games, or joined in games and became closer. I run a D&D campaign at my house, and that includes friends, friends of friends (who are now friends), and a coworker (who is now a friend). It’s amazing how all those different groups come together over dice at the table, united in a common cause of trying to foil whatever plot I want to inflict on them this week. We’re over two years and still going.
  • At the library games day or a convention, people who don’t know each other and have nothing else in common all get together to play new games and learn from each other. I love participating in those, especially when kids are welcome and I can help them discover games they like.

With all that it’s given me, I’m pretty proud to be a member of some part of the gamer community.

Quick reply to a CBC opinion piece

Yesterday, CBC posted an opinion piece about New Brunswick’s political narrative, and had the author on air to talk about it. I found the piece was pretty weak, making claims that weren’t supported by what was happening on the ground. So I wrote a reply that was read on air.

Today, I happened to need a copy to link to. So, here’s what I wrote:

Hi Terry,

To be honest, I’m not sure what election you and your guest are talking about. The one I saw had five vibrant options with a wide range of positions on the issues, including shale development. Of the three parties against development, voters chose the one with the weakest position, a moratorium, instead of the ones offering stronger positions like an outright ban.

That doesn’t support the hypothesis that voters are strongly against it and industry lobbying is forcing it to happen anyway. Nor do the polls support that. There were many issues in play in the election. Voters made their choice, and it seems to me that democracy worked as intended.

There are certainly problems, but the idea that voters are disenfranchised because they got exactly what they voted for stretches credibility an awful lot.

Playing With Friends – Coop Games and Difficulty

These days, I play more games with friends than I do alone. Time is a lot more limited, and it’s single player that has suffered most. Most of that time is spent with Rhiss, my best friend. What I’m finding is that the experience changes some games greatly, while others don’t change at all. When it does change, it’s not always for the better.

Playing Together, But Not Really

Most recent example: Civilization: Beyond Earth

I really enjoy Beyond Earth. It took two expansions to make Civ 5 enjoyable (I still prefer 4), and Beyond Earth is starting from that base. Coop play was a natural fit, and it’s well supported either by just working together as two distinct teams, or being on the same team from game creation. Teammates share one pool of techs (at higher research cost to balance it out) and diplomatic state, but most other things are distinct. Due to how many affinity points you get from techs, it works best if you agree on how to progress there.

That said, the game put us far enough apart that we really aren’t interacting. Occasionally I send a trader his way and I sent a carrier to support a war of his, but for most of the game we were so far apart that helping each other wasn’t practical. The net result is that while we’re playing together and talking and such, aside from choosing research most of what I do doesn’t impact him at all. It’s fun, but not ideal.

I think the developers overcompensated from Civ 4, where it was possible to be so close together in coop that you’d step on each others toes while expanding. I had that happen once and it was a pain, but on a more favorable map it meant you could have each other’s back and really help out in war. It makes the game easier in general.

Playing Together and Trivializing The Game

Most recent example: Wildstar

I met Rhiss in World of Warcraft. The game was a good fit for us, as we were both RPers. Eventually I got into the raiding game more than he did and that caused problems, but we spent a ton of time playing together.

Since then, we’ve tried to find another MMO that could give us the same thing. Wildstar worked well for a while, when we were creating the content ourselves. That is, roleplaying. You’d also think that an MMO would be ideal for group play, but…

The main problem is that the open world stuff is designed to be soloed. Most of the quests don’t need another person at all. If you add one, you trivialize it. Especially when one of us is a tank and the other is a healer, we can take on most of the elite stuff without help too. When we do need more help, it’s usually in a dungeon/adventure, which requires a full group. There’s no real middle ground that can challenge two of us but not add extra people.

When it does work, it works really well. The trouble is that a lot of the time, the difficulty is so low for two people playing together that paying attention is not required. I understand why that is, given how hard it’d be to make a group only MMO in this market, but it’s still an issue for group play.

Playing Together and Kinda Interacting

Most Recent Example: Diablo 3

Since Reaper of Souls came out and totally revamped Diablo 3, it’s been a great team game. You can play with however many people you want (up to the maximum of four), and the game scales to handle it. We can change the difficulty for how far along we are, and the game handles it. We can find something to do for 20 minutes, or 2 hours. Interaction between characters in the game isn’t super high (this isn’t a team dance like a WoW raid), but what everybody is doing does matter and builds with control or buffs can really help each other out.

It can get repetitive given all you really do is kill things for loot infinitely, but it’s nice to have a game that feels like we’re actually playing together and that what we both do matters.

Playing Together as a Team

Most recent example: Borderlands The Pre Sequel

There’s a lot of things I didn’t like about Borderlands The Pre Sequel compared to Borderlands 2, but the coop play was not one of them. I was playing as Athena, and once I got levelled high enough I had both a shield to block/reflect attacks, and a taunt. Using that would free Rhiss up (playing as Nisha) to blast things like crazy. In addition to my ranged ability to get him back up, I was playing a tank in a FPS and it really changed the game in terms of how we fought together. I had a lot more fun once I got that.

The really great thing was how much it felt like what either of us was doing mattered. Working together greatly enhanced our results vs just having two of us off doing our own thing, and that’s my idea of what a coop game should be.


It actually surprises me that arguably the MMO is the one that failed the most as a coop game, but that was just due to fixed difficulty. There wasn’t really any way to make things in the levelling part of the game hard enough that we actually had to be a team most of the time, short of being reckless and trying to grab five pulls at once.

MMO Budgets Need A Rethink

The MMO market is a mess right now. Wildstar is the most obvious example, but problems making money abound. It’s to the point that even Blizzard doesn’t seem to be working on a new entry (though knowing Blizzard, Titan could have been cancelled simply because it wasn’t working out).

Fundamentally, this is a budget problem. A game can be very profitable with a small playerbase, if the budget is appropriate. We’re in an indie game golden age right now entirely because digital distribution brought the cost of distribution down so much that it suddenly became viable to sell 50,000 units at $10 and turn a profit, with a small budget for development. It’s great.

MMOs? Forget about it. Wildstar’s budget is rumored to be north of $100 million. ESO’s budget was huge. FFXIV’s budget was huge, then they did it again. With the kind of money being thrown around here, you need a game to have massive numbers to ever break even. The idea was to get a million subs and be good, but the market really doesn’t make that easy these days.

Bottom line – if people are going to keep making MMOs, budgets have to come down.

Continue reading “MMO Budgets Need A Rethink”

Attention Span Changes and Gaming

Still don’t have a name for this blog, but what the hey. I have stuff to write about, so I’ll sort out the name later. 🙂

Last weekend, I was invited out to a friend’s camp (which is a cottage with no running water and heated by a wood stove). For the three days I was there it was between 7-10 guys, all playing board games. People brought their own games, and there was a huge stack. I wish I’d gotten a photo of it. I noticed a pattern in the games that were payed.

Long Games Did Poorly

Friday night was dominated by big, long games. Games like Attack! and Zombicide, that have complex rules, lots of pieces, and are intended to last for a couple of hours. A few of these games got going.

None of them were finished.

Continue reading “Attention Span Changes and Gaming”

Hey, it’s a blog!

Occasionally I like to write stuff that doesn’t really have anywhere else to go. I’ll try putting that stuff here and see how it turns out.

Right now I expect it to be about gaming fairly often, but I have a really wide set of interests and like to write about all kinds of things… so pretty much anything could sneak in here.

If blogging requires you to be focused on one issue, then I’m really bad at it. 😉