Massively Multiplayer Observations Part 3 - Lights, Camera, Action MMOs!

Curse you, goat!
So, in Part 1 I talked about how I developed as an online gamer from childhood through the tender age of 38, and Part 2 described my group's increasingly desperate attempts to find something enough like City of Heroes to keep us together until one or more of the "Spiritual Successor" games got it together.  I eventually abandoned Mac purity and got a gaming PC, even.  When I left off, The Secret World (a superheroes meet horror game) was our new home, but it was doomed.  A mutant star goat or something.

But first a brief digression.  There were other superhero MMOs out there, why didn't we try one of them?  Especially once I got involved in City of Titans and could use the excuse of "looking for ideas to steal and pitfalls to avoid" to try out new games?  (We decided to avoid the "higher levels are all solo instances and large raids" pretty early on.)

Well, there's Champions Online, and I did give it a try on several occasions.  Heck, Champions was the tabletop RPG I played in college instead of getting a Nintendo, so you'd think it a natural.  Unfortunately, no Mac port.  And under Parallels it ran so slowly that flying around was like trying to drive a semitractor on ice.  But I did get a PC in the summer of 2016, so in addition to being able to give The Secret World a serious chance, I went back to Champions for a third try.  Meh.  The lockboxes, the crowds, the severe character creation limits on non-subscribers combined with the sort of gear-heavy character builds that you expect in a fantasy game rather than superhero tended to turn me off.  And the racism didn't help either (in one of the lowbie adventures, you face a signature villain of the setting, a Fiend from the East complete with "You be velly solly" style dialogue).  So we decided not to do that.  (Steal: nothing, really.  Avoid: Lockboxes, racism.)

The squirrels stick around for a while after being
used as a beam weapon attack.
Marvel Heroes (no link for reasons that will become clear) started up in 2015 and ran fine on my Mac, but it wasn't really an MMO, it was a Diablo clone, meaning an isomorphic top-down fighting game where all the characters were maybe as big as a wargaming miniature.  The "classes" were individual heroes, so rather than rolling up a strongman of your own creation, you'd make Luke Cage.  You could earn or buy alternate costumes, but Luke could only wear Luke clothes, you couldn't have him wear Squirrel Girl's outfit.  And unless you zoomed in so far you couldn't see any targets, the icon was so small that costumes barely mattered.  I ran through the campaign once on Luke Cage, then unlocked Squirrel Girl and amused myself with firing streams of squirrels at people for a while before getting bored and quitting.  It just got shut down anyway, in a situation even worse than City of Heroes.  (Steal: not even close enough to our wheelhouse to steal from.  Avoid: super-short storylines, limited costume options, camera zoom tied unalterably to mouse wheels.)

And finally, DC Universe Online, which had just gotten started in 2012.  It was actually a Playstation 3 game that got a PC version, and definitely played as a PS3 game.  Very twitch, which is to say that your reflexes as a player matter a lot more than in a traditional MMO.  If you couldn't keep the targeting reticle on the imaginary box around the target, you couldn't hit...character accuracy didn't matter as much as player accuracy.  Plus, it was another gear game, where your actual powers mattered very little compared to all the armor and weapons you would load up on.  We had no interest in that sort of game, but it turned out to be a harbinger of things to come.

It turned out that after a while, DCUO softened the twitch elements a bit, target lock could be established, the imaginary boxes got bigger, and so forth.  This was part of the movement to what's now termed "Action Control MMO" design, which is the current thing.  Traditional MMO controls are largely out of fashion (although City of Titans will have them, because we're in large part a nostalgia game).  Left mouse button for one thing, right mouse button for another, combos possible.  Mouse movement no longer feasible (something one person in my group really hates, because he's older than I am and has little desire to switch from mouse movement to WASD keys).

So, I get back to the doom that befell The Secret World, and it wasn't a mutant star goat.  It was action controls.  The Secret World relaunched in 2017 as Secret World Legends, with new character progression and with action controls.  But because they're less evil than most online game companies, Funcom didn't shut down the old game, they just stopped updating it (and tech support/GM support got realllly scanty).  Again, we had a ticking clock until such time as our group sessions reached the end of the existing content, and it was time to go looking again.

It was possible that Secret World Legends would be okay.  Sure, we'd have to learn the new controls and probably run through a lot of old content again before getting to anything new, but we did like the setting and the feel of the game.  So I decided, ahead of the SWL launch, to go looking for other Action Control games.  I reasoned that if I could get the hang of the controls on something forgiving, I could adapt to SWL.  After all, while I wasn't a twitch gamer, a year of dodging area attacks had improved my skills in that area a little, right?

Just another night, fighting evil by moonlight in
lacy outfits and high heels.  High heels NOT optional
for playable female characters, naturally.
I tried Revelation Online first.  It had some interesting-looking mechanics, and I took it as a challenge to use the "waifu generator" character system to make a female character who was at least within spitting distance of realistic human proportions.  (Warning: a lot of Korean-origin MMOs have a strong component of "create a sex doll that can swing a sword" to them.  Revelation Online is a really "good" example of this.)  I even eventually figured out how to turn off the "run cutely off balance" feature, but I barely made it to the end of the tutorial...and not for any of the reasons I'd expected.  It was the y-axis.

You see, there's rarely any reason to expect the game camera to move left when you move the mouse right, but there's competing schools when it comes to up and down.  The current standard is that you move the cursor up to make the camera move up.  But a lot of older gamers, especially those who played a lot of flight simulators, prefer the "pull the stick back" approach.  I personally find it maps better to body movements: when I'm seated, my head is usually slightly forward of neutral, so my neck muscles pull back for me to look up significantly, and relax to look more down.  I have a strong association of "pull back to look up" just from how my body works, so it's easy to train my gaming reflexes to do the equivalent.  Almost every game defaults to "mouse forward means look up," but similarly almost every game has an option to click in order to "invert the y-axis."

Revelation Online didn't have this option, despite plenty of evidence of players requesting it.  And after the tenth time I got killed because I looked down instead of up or vice versa, I decided the game was not worth retraining all my reflexes for...and I sympathized more with my group member who didn't want to switch to WASD key movement.

Isn't it cute?  Now go kill 20.
So, next I checked out Black Desert Online, which was really cheap in a Steam sale.  It, too, was derided as a Waifu Simulator, but the proportions were a little less heinous, there was more control over idle animations so you didn't have to be bouncing around giggling between actions, and importantly it had y-axis inversion.  The action controls were very forgiving, especially in melee, but even on an archer character it was pretty easy to hit what you wanted to as long as it was in the rough middle of the screen.  However, it became clear very early on that it was not a game that would be good for small teams.  The quests were so stacked and frantic at times that we'd spend half our time asking "Did you finish (name of quest) yet?"  Basically, solo play until endgame, then mandatory grouping.  But I'd never held out too much hope of this being something for the group, so I just kept going in order to work on my action control skills.  I skipped the first few months of Secret World Legends being open as a result, but eventually I had explored as much of the world as I could without being in the endgame content, and moved on to the endgame.  Since I didn't really know people I trusted to team with (and spent as much time blocking people in chat as actually chatting in chat), that was pretty much it, so I uninstalled and moved to SWLegends.

While a little stricter on targeting than Black Desert Online, I found few difficulties playing the Action Controls Secret World Legends.  Still not really a twitch gamer, but I'd managed to develop into a semi-twitch gamer, at least.  I managed to get through all of the revised content solo, finishing it in the new game about a week before my group finished the storyline in the old game.  Nice timing, there.

But the old problems reared their ugly heads.  The other Mac user in our group had no problems with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, and was able to get The Secret World to play after he installed the right drivers, because his Mac was beefier, with extra graphics capabilities he used in his 3D modeling work.  But for some reason the new game kept freezing on him if he left the first post-tutorial area.  Meanwhile, the other two were reluctant to replay the old content with only very minor tweaks, especially since they'd had some issues with the account transfer process (if you had subscription time left on the old game, you could copy it over to the new game, but that didn't work in their cases).  So, time to go searching again, but with Action Controls seeming inevitable, we were a little more open to the idea in general.

D&D Online had switched to action controls shortly after the last time we'd tried, but no one was too enthusiastic about going there.  I looked at Anarchy Online, but it's painfully old in a lot of ways.  There's a wild west MMO that was in early alpha that one of us wanted to try, but it wouldn't be available for a while.  And, of course, the City of Titans alpha was looking like it might be happening within a few months, but that still left the question of what to do for those few months.

My first DCUO character
Smokestaq.  Yes, I played
Fire Lad on LegionMUSH.
Hey, at least it's not another
So it was back to trying DCU Online.  Lots of gear and lockbox issues, but it had been around long enough to work out many of the kinks, and if the costume creator wasn't as flexible as City of Heroes's had been, well, nothing was.  And it was pretty good.  The Action Controls had been made more forgiving, and at last we could play a game where we could fly again!  Two of the group took off for a few weeks to vacation with their daughter, leaving me and the other Mac guy to try it out.  It has some nuisance elements, but my friend really enjoyed it, and hoped we'd be able to switch to it.  If nothing else, friends who'd been playing it longer assured me we could probably get a couple months out of it before we starting hitting paywalls, and if we actually enjoyed it we'd be willing to pay the subscription fee.

Unfortunately, it looks like the more frantic pace of the game is still offputting to enough of our group to sink that idea, but I haven't uninstalled it yet.  Our next plan is to see if we can get Elder Scrolls Online to work for us (another Steam sale helped), but the wandering in the wilderness continues.

And so we reach the end of this series of articles.  On the one hand, my in-depth experience with MMOs is limited: reaching endgame content in City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars the Old Republic, The Secret World/Secret World Legends, Black Desert Online, and having a smattering of experiences in another handful of games.  I'm hardly an expert gamer, but I've also approached pretty much every game from the viewpoint of trying to understand what makes an MMO work and not work (even City of Heroes, as I did help one of the Paragon Studios staff on some statistical analyses in the last year or so of the game).  I've learned that while I have a philosophical objection to repetitive grinding, I'm pretty good at it.  I've felt the slot machine lure of opening lockboxes, but am in firm agreement with City of Titans's decision to avoid them.

And I've learned that while lots of games and make you feel sort of like a superhero, nothing beats being able to fly.

Dvandom, aka Dave Van Domelen, is an Assistant Professor of Physical Science at Amarillo College, maintainer of one of the two longest-running Transformers fansites in existence (neither he nor Ben Yee is entirely sure who was first), long time online reviewer of comics, finder of holes in the geometry of the maps of pretty much every MMO he's played, occasional science advisor in fiction, and part of the development team for the upcoming City of Titans MMO.
Massively Multiplayer Observations Part 3 - Lights, Camera, Action MMOs! Massively Multiplayer Observations Part 3 - Lights, Camera, Action MMOs! Reviewed by Dvandom on Monday, December 25, 2017 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.