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The Littlest Things

In the midst of a bout of gaming ennui, I find myself coming back time and again to PlanetSide 2. The game has some serious structural issues – to say that it’s still in Beta is somewhat less of a joke these days – and there is every indication that a sustainable population might not be there for too much longer. I created characters of each faction back when you were unable to have multiple factions on the same server, but a series of server merges have resulted in all three being on the same one (out of two) NA server.

In fact, going by that website, Ps2 has gone from 28 servers worldwide down to… 5. My routine when booting up the game is to filter the four continent maps by Ally Activity, and only choose to play if one continent has more than three hexes with at least 24+ friendly player activity. It is… not guaranteed, even during EST prime time.

So why am I still playing at all? It’s a good question, and the only real explanation is this: the Phoenix Launcher.

My “main” character was initially a member of the Vanu faction, which is based around laser/plasma weapons. Each faction has access to “empire-specific” weapons that have no real analog amongst the others. Technically all non-NS weapons are unique, but the difference between the LMG that has more ammo vs the less-ammo-but-higher-damage vs the middling one without bullet drop is not all that great. The empire-specific weapons are a whole other ballgame though.

The difference between the empire-specific rocket launchers is perhaps the greatest in the game. The Vanu have a charge-up laser launcher that has basically zero travel time. The TR have a lock-on rocket launcher that fires five rockets in a row. And the NC? The Phoenix Launcher, which fires a camera-guided and steerable rocket.

I have “quit” PlanetSide 2 several times already, for a number of reasons. But lately I keep coming back for the Phoenix Launcher because it is about the most fun I have had in a FPS… at least in a while. Which is bizarre because only the Heavy Assault class can use the weapon, and it is not as though I spend all my time playing just that class. It’s like the mere possibility of my being able to steer a rocket up over cover and around the cliff the enemy tank is hiding behind is enough to get the juices flowing. I’ll repair the base turrets as an Engineer and play Medic to forward a base assault just to set up the opportunity later to ride some rockets around.

In the abstract, I clearly enjoy the base gameplay too. And that’s true. But without the Phoenix Launcher, that would not have been enough for me to justify my continued play.

I cannot quite decide if that is sad, or precisely the way things should be.

Wildstar Megaservers

The big announcement by Carbine on Tuesday was: server merges megaservers!

In the near future, we will be implementing Megaservers for WildStar.

Going the Megaserver route means that we vastly increase server capacity allowing for greater critical mass of our player base, resulting in more people, more groups, more activity and more raids… more of everything that makes WildStar so fun. The Megaservers and their increased player capacity will give fans more options to group up and enjoy WildStar with friends and other players for a long time to come.

Of course, when they say “more people,” they really mean “putting the few people who are left all in the same box.”

Perhaps that is a bit uncharitable, considering I have no metrics to point to in regards to the health of the game. All that I know is that I haven’t played since June despite having paid for July’s subscription cost via in-game money. My interest really waned around the mid-30s when I discovered DPSing on the Medic was borderline masochism whereas other classes breezed (and continue to breeze) through. Then there were all the trips at the end of July/beginning of August, then the guildies that came over on Day 1 unsubscribed, and it turns out I never set up a recurring payment anyhow.

But back to Wildstar, I do believe this is another indication that servers, in general, are an anachronism of a bygone age. And good riddance – I have been calling for their removal since 2011. Every thing that people traditionally enjoy about servers (getting to know people, server pride, etc) are all actually symptomatic of artificial social barriers. Yes, megaservers mean that player interactions tend towards the LFD default of asocial behavior, but is that price worth paying when you intentionally divide and hinder real-world relationships? Amongst my gaming group, two of the six people who bought Wildstar ended up on a specific PvP server. I rallied the others to a RP-PvE server, because A) I can’t be bothered with PvP servers anymore, and B) I knew some bloggers were going to be on it.

Maybe we would have all quit playing anyway, but it nevertheless feels like a pretty stupid problem to have in 2014.

Along with the general megaserver news, Carbine also hid a few other interesting changes. For example, the FAQ mentions the introductions of last names:

What happens if two characters from different realms have the same name?

Along with the Megaservers, we will introduce character last names. Each characters will have a unique name comprised of a first name (this is your existing character name) and a last name separated by a space. In the character select screen, you will have to choose a last name before entering the game. You will be limited to a total 30 characters including the space.

I am still pretty sure that Guild Wars 2 has the best naming system in any MMO I have played, insofar as it simply allows you to use spaces. Don’t want a last name? Don’t make one. Or make a goofy phrase name. Or not. Unfortunately for Wildstar players, it certainly appears as though you will need to enter something in the last name field whether or not you wanted one.

By the way:

Although we’re far enough in the process to begin talking about it, we are still some ways away from the Megaservers going live. One of the things we’re doing to make the wait easier is that as of this post going live, we have put free realm transfers in the game for all players.

I am not entirely sure whether this will mean that you can realm transfer from PvE to PvP or vice versa (I am pretty sure there was a restriction at some point), but it is worth noting.

Also of note: you will be able to roll both Dominion and Exile characters on the same server.

So there it is. Megaservers. I sort of dislike the “3-monther” pejorative, but Wildstar has been out… for three months this week.

Server Merges Are Coming

Blizzard is calling them “Connected Realms,” but it occurs to me that in the future, any MMO dev can simply call their server merges “connected realms” to bypass the negative stigma surrounding the term. “We’re not merging, we’re connecting! Which is like merging, except with a hashtag!”

On a different note, this quote from the Connected Realms FAQ is a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post (emphasis mine):

Connected Realms also allow us to link populations in a way that’s not disruptive to players, and that doesn’t negatively impact players’ sense of identity and character. Other alternatives such as merging realms would require us to force character name changes if there were conflicts, and could lead to confusion for returning players who’d log in to find their realm missing from the realm list. Some players also feel strong ties to their realm’s name or history, and we don’t want to erase that.

Let me ask you something, and get ready to have your mind blown. What is a realm’s name or history if not the collection of people in it? What is the difference between Auchindoun-US, the shit-hole I played on for 4+ years, and something like Stormrage-US, one of the highest-populated servers in WoW?

The people. That’s it. Auchindoun’s Lower City looks exactly the same as Stormrage’s Lower City. Arthas looks the same, the mobs look the same, the resource spawns are the same, the quests are the same, every single thing is the same.

While the speed of opening the AQ Gates or whether there was a server first heroic Lich King kill before the expansion comes out differs depending on the server, that is simply due to – again – the people. The AQ gates are open everywhere. Deathwing is dead everywhere. Garrosh will be a raid boss everywhere soon. Remove the people, and every single MMO server is the same.

This is why I cock an eyebrow at “dynamic” and “emergent” anything. EQN is going to have StoryBrick AI in there somewhere. Cool… but is that going to mean Server A has a completely different ecology than Server B? If not, we must have radically different definitions of what those words mean. Player ecologies differ between servers of course, sometimes radically, and make the server distinctions worthwhile. But servers differing on the development side? As far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway: server merges in WoW. Given how my friends bailed out of Auchindoun and to a PvE server during the half-price sale a while back, there is literally nothing to go back to. Should I ever desire to. For Press™ reasons. That $25 a pop price though… jesus. The suits over there sure like making the decision easy.

Virtual Realms: Height of Cynicism

Alright, maybe Virtual Realms were the unannounced feature of 5.4. Or the tutorial zone, aka Proving Grounds. But, no, probably Virtual Realms:

New Feature: Virtual Realms

  • Virtual Realms are sets of realms that are fused together, and will behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm. Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well run dungeons or group up to complete quests.
  • Players belonging to the same Virtual Realm will have a (#) symbol next to their name.

I guess they finally solved that otherwise insurmountable naming problem, amirite?

Anyway, there are two (other) reasons this announcement is the height of cynicism:

1) Server Merges by any other name.

I get it, you get it, we all get it. Actually saying “server merges” is a sign of the apocalypse and bad PR besides. Grouping several low-pop servers together “virtually” is putting lipstick on the pig of 1.3+ million subscriber losses in the last quarter. At some point though, it’s just sad. You aren’t fooling anyone with that ridiculous comb-over. Just shave your head and get it over with.

2) Aren’t you glad you just spent $12.50+ server transferring?

I read the comments on my earlier post, regarding how things “usually go on sale before they are obsoleted.” For as jaded and dour as I can be under normal circumstances, I generally have some minimum level of faith in humanity. Obvious displays of naked greed are actions that can still genuinely surprise me, even if I distrust the “altruism” of corporations as a rule.

But, Jesus Christ, did Blizzard just take a huge shit on their playerbase.

There was a running joke in the PlanetSide 2 community regarding something similar: Item of the Day. Usually, the deals are 50% off the Station Cash (i.e. RMT) price of some garbage item or another, including items that are way cheaper to purchase with Certs. Every now and then though, some recently-released gun or something will pop up, prompting a lot of sales. People always joked that whenever something good snuck its way into the rotation, that meant it was getting nerfed by next week. And the shitty thing? It usually did.

The assumption got so pervasive and accurate that Higby, one of the PlanetSide 2 devs, actually stepped in and rolled back a planned nerf to one of the vehicle weapons that had just went on sale. He assured the community that these sales are planned out 30 days in advance, that the sale/nerf cycle was just coincidence, but who can you really believe when it comes to capitalistic incentives?

That question is not so rhetorical anymore. It was not an accident that Blizzard put server transfers on sale for the first time in their 8+ year history a mere week before announcing (free) server merges. Maybe they see some distinction insofar as players can choose where they go versus leaving it up to random chance. It’s still absolute bullshit though, because how many people would have bought a server transfer if the sale was this week, or next week? QED.

I mean, this is a new low that even EA hasn’t achieved, not for lack of trying.

Organized PvP

Everyone has heard the phrase “Less is More.” The converse is occasionally true as well.

A few weeks ago, several PlanetSide 2 servers were merged, and mine was amongst them. When it comes to player-generated content, you always need players to be in physical proximity for any of the magic to really occur. So, I should be all for this development, right?


In games like PlanetSide 2, organized PvP is too often boring PvP. When you look at this picture, what do you see?

Whatever is over there is screwed.

Whatever is over there is screwed.

If you said “a bunch of planes,” you would technically be correct. Each plane is a Galaxy, which is a 16-man troop transport. Dozens and dozens of fiercely-organized players could be spilling out of the sky, with no warning, deftly seizing territory almost behind enemy lines. Cool, right?

Not really. More likely, those dozens of troops will be landing on an empty base, sitting around shooting 1 bullet and reloading to give some free XP to the Engineers resupplying them ammo, until the base is capped and they move on to the next. Capturing anything less than a Bio Lab results in about the same XP as killing 3-5 people. And even if this Outfit lucks out and finds willing defenders, said defenders are likely to give up and respawn elsewhere than throw themselves beneath the tread of an organized zerg. Because… why would they?

When I log into PlanetSide 2, I do so out of a desire to shoot people. Fighting against an organized Outfit does not result in interesting gameplay for me, as I am necessarily foiled at every turn. Unorganized zerg clashes, on the other hand, are fun times – people flock from all around to any given Bio Lab fight – precisely because individual agency exists. It is your individual, focused skill against the seething mass of the average and distracted. Yes, the odds are low that you accomplish anything of consequence given any one of the dozens of enemies can undo your damage. But sometimes they don’t, because, you know, unorganized. And then you feel like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

Which brings me back to the Ps2 server merges. Simply put, since the change I have seen a large increase in organized Outfit activity. Which makes sense, of course, given that there are more people in a smaller space. The result is less interesting gameplay to me, however, as I either face an organized resistance or none at all – the unorganized defenders having been squashed or conscripted hours before. There simply isn’t room for a lone ESF pilot flying around, harassing the odd Sunderer. The landscape beneath my wings is either barren or blanketed with vicious Anti-Aircraft units, both scenarios a reaction to a prior sky full of organized terror.

One might imagine that the underlying design goal was for the two organized groups to meet upon the battlefield, fighting tooth and nail, performing novel tactics that can only emerge from such clashing of focused wills. One might also question what the designers were smoking to believe that such things ever occur naturally and spontaneously. Why struggle and possibly fail (!) when you can instead shepherd your Outfit into empty territory after territory, maximizing XP gains for all? Three kills give more XP than a base capture, but its doubtful everyone will have the opportunity to get three kills, assuming you even find that many defenders still sticking around when the dust of 17 tanks looms tall on the horizon.

No, PlanetSide 2’s organized warfare is the WoW random BG premade, seeking easy kills for the easy Honor. To get these Outfits to clash, SOE is going to have to fashion a similar solution: incentivize Outfit vs Outfit gameplay, ala Rated BGs or Arenas. Changing the hex system to a more linear one is no solution to anything. Scratch that, it’s a great boon to finding a fun, unorganized brawl. It is not, however, going to change how Outfits follow the natural inclination of organized warfare in the preference of soft targets to hard.

If anything, the meeting of strength to strength is the most unnatural result of all.