Diving Deep: Journey Into The Sims 4

The Sims 4 released on the PC last week, nearly one year after it was first revealed. The lead-up to its release was a flurry of mixed emotions from longtime fans of the series; between concern over missing features (compared to Sims 1-3), the shift from an open world to single lot environment, the small introductory neighborhood size and more.

While I've certainly invested a lot of time into many other series such as EverQuest, Elder Scrolls and Civilization, the Sims franchise takes the cake for having devoted hundreds (or more *cough*) of my life to. I've been playing The Sims longer than any of my children have been alive (the eldest of which will be able to get his driver's permit next year). Let's just say my excitement for the announcement of The Sims 4 included many exclaimation points, and after my first 49 hours of playing it, I'm quite happy with the game, despite its spotty issues and omitted features.

This review is going to be extremely lengthy and touch on every aspect I've experienced thus far.

Your Next: Growing Pains

This week, I have mostly been quietly raging to myself, as an acute case of the man-flu sapped the energy required to do more.

It’s a funny time to be interested in games. By ‘games’, I don’t just mean the final product that we become the end-user, of course. The whole structure and mechanism around games is suffering from some chronic growing pains, and while wonderful new ideas and possibilities are opening up, teen tantrums seem to be coming along with it.

This time it’s even made its way into the mainstream press, and I see the look people give me when I tell them what I do in my spare time. Then we talk about Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn and I’m forced to smile and politely agree that ‘games don’t really matter, they’re just for kids anyway!’

Understandably, it’s a time of great change; we’ve all been guilty of identifying a little too personally with a commercial product. I can say that with some confidence, knowing this is an MMO crowd.

So we struggle to express our emotions; we make earnest, yet sophomoric, declarations (I’ll be case in point, here) that we know would solve everything if people would just listen. While we may be unsure what it is we want, exactly, we can smell which end of the bull what you’re giving us came out of.

So I’m angry this week; I’m feeling sick, for once I’ve been embarrassed to say I love MMOs and videogames in public and now I check to see what’s been happening and I see WildStar, ArcheAge and Destiny all spoon feeding us crap like we wouldn’t notice.

So forgive me if I take a break this week from talking about how bright our future is while I deal with this.

WildStar has seen the inevitable dip in its user-base and is exploring options for mega-server technology. I’m sorry, but are we expected to believe that Carbine Studios did not expect their numbers to drop after the first few months? I’m sure they’re not stupid, and I don’t think it’s humanly possible to be that arrogant, so they didn’t tell us about their plans. Seems like a pretty smart move, and one that will benefit players, so why not be up front about it?

On the other hand, they’re also claiming they didn’t realize how many players would want to play solo, and that the game is ‘too hardcore’ for many, so they’ll be introducing changes and new features to accomodate.

The plan seems to be to lie to and alienate the players who decided to stick around for the long haul. What a shame. I was really hoping WildStar would pull it out of the bag and be a success story - it’s incredibly well made and the team seem passionate about what they have - but if they carry on like this, I expect they’ll end up yet another casualty of the MMO grinder.

Your Next: Like That, But Different

It's been pointed out time and again that Landmark enjoys one of the best online communities ever, and I must say I agree. Yes, there are those who have an unfortunate proclivity towards being entitled jerks, but really their crime is caring too much. Comparing these mild irritants to some online communities is like comparing a playful scratch from a kitten to stepping on a LEGO.

I'm happy and proud to be part of this community, and I hope that my words and actions contribute to supporting and maintaining this attitude.

Now, let's all kick the stuffing out of each other—I want to fight every last one of you.

Yes, PvP is here; it's the new thing the cool kids are talking about. While I appreciate and respect the reservations of some when it comes to this kind of activity, I would heartily recommend at least trying out the weapons with a trusted friend.

These mechanics and systems are, after all, what we can expect from combat all the way through to EverQuest Next. Your feedback at this early stage carries just as much weight as the psychotics among us who enjoy a little competition, so don't be shy, you have nothing to lose. Really—there's no death penalty yet, go nuts. (Before you start, yes, I am aware there almost certainly won't be a default death penalty in this kind of content. Let's just all share the hilarious joke and move on.)

Monkey Tales: An Educational Experience

Monkey Tales is a series of educational games by Larian Studios, originally released in 2011 and repackaged together in a Steam release last week. Designed for ages 7 through 11, these games use an algorithm to establish your child's learning curve and ramp difficulty up or down to ensure a well-tailored learning experience.

I happen to have two children in this age range, and Larian Studios was kind enough to offer a review code for the game. My kids, in 2nd and 5th grade, gave the game a whirl and offered their insight on the experience.

A Haunting Weekend in Wayward Manor

Over the weekend, I spent some time liberating Wayward Manor of its fleshy inhabitants. The casual puzzle game, based on a tale and narrated by author Neil Gaiman, was released on July 15, 2014 to mixed reviews. While I enjoyed my time within developer The Odd Gentlemen's manor, completing a game within three hours can leave much to be desired.

Your Next: Selfish Gamers

Being part of SOE's development of Landmark and EverQuest Next has so far been a strange and unique process, at times it feels like watching a Rube Goldberg machine assemble itself. We don't understand how everything fits together because we don't know yet, it's never been done. Frankly, I doubt that SOE knows how it all fits together; opportunities emerge as they build the tools to make the platform to build the tools. Opening the crate with the crowbar that's inside it.

SOE Live offers a convenient point of punctuation—it’s a great time to look back and take stock of how far we've come in such a short time while looking ahead at the ever clearer path in front of us.

Over a year ago during SOE Live 2013, I became hopelessly enamoured with the idea these games represented. Whether it's a case of cognitive bias or not, I must say being part of this experience has so far exceeded my expectations and I am consistently floored by the innovation of this unprecedented project.

Of course there's a long way to go, but right now I'm glad it's happening at all. Those of you who follow the news of the industry at large will be aware of the awful events of the last couple of weeks. We all know an unfortunate side effect of the anonymity the internet provides is giving a mouthpiece to people who don't think some other people's experiences are valid. So called 'gamer culture' has provided a breeding ground for these hateful fantasists, the themes and marketing strategies of the AAA game industry tend to play into their delusions.

So we must endure the death throes of this weak and petty bunch, all the while maintaining our superiority, because we are selfish enough to want others to be included.

Did I say selfish? Surely they are the selfish ones? Don't worry, it's just a trick – read on for the delightfully hyperbolic rhetoric!

When discussing accessibility in MMOs, I often refer to my selfishness. Because I am selfish, I want other people to enjoy playing the games I do; I want them to be knowledgeable and competent and feel empowered in the way that I do because improving their game experience improves my own.

It's the same with the game industry as a whole. I want all types of people to feel included, respected and valued because I am an awful, selfish man who wants games to be the best and most interesting they can be.

This is why I tend to champion instances of user generated content, social cohesion and player agency in games. I think it makes them more challenging, interesting and ultimately exciting. It might not always make them better, they might not be any more fun and judging by suggestions on forum posts we can expect more misses than hits.

Eorzea Examiner #20: Inspiration From Nexus, Pt. 3

Hello and welcome to the twentieth edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAMs column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this weeks column, we're going back to look at the recently released MMO from Carbine Studios, WildStar. The last couple times we took a look at WildStar, I pointed out areas of their game design that I thought FFXIV could learn from and incorporate into Eorzea. This column’s going to be a little bit different. We’ll still be talking about something I’d like to see brought over from WildStar to FFXIV, but it’s something Carbine still needs to work on: Adventures.

Your Next: Genre Defining

As some of you know, I'll be getting married next week. She's cool—you’d like her. At times like this one's thoughts can't help but turn to the nature and idea of commitment.

It's something that's always struck me about the MMO genre, if it is a genre, these games are made with the hope that we'll be playing them for years to come. Many of us have, or still are.

We're all aware of how much competition there is for our valuable free time these days. With the rise of quality free-to-play titles, the Steam Sale and the Humble Bundle, the barrier of entry for the best gaming has to offer drops lower by the day.

It seems like an insurmountable task for a developer to create one game that could hold our interest for any length of time, let alone years.

Could this be it? Could MMOs soon be relegated to a niche curiosity with the odd nostalgia product aimed at an aging, dwindling crowd?

Firefall: Launch Review

Firefall is a surprising, enigmatic game. It doesn't feel like a blockbuster game, but it's incredibly addictive in all the right ways. The logical part of my brain wonders "Is this game actually good?", while the rest is just having fun and shouting "AWESOME!"

People have called Firefall the "Borderlands MMO." That's a good place to start: an FPS MMO with satisfying RPG elements. The games themselves share few similarities, and Red 5 Studios went further with Firefall than you might expect.

Considering it's free-to-play, it's definitely worth the download to try it out – and if you're like me, it'll stick around for months to come. To find out why, let's look a little closer.

Landmark Founder Pack Discounts: Right or Wrong?

Sony Online Entertainment launched a 48-hour Steam sale on their Landmark Founder's Packs yesterday. According to the official forums (as well as reddit and Twitter), this sale left a bitter taste in some people's mouths.

When it comes to controversial topics such as this (especially as an active member in SOE's gaming community), I try to be fair and see it from both sides of the coin. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and put down the pitchfork for a moment, while other times we are completely justified in feeling wronged and slighted. Unfortunately, this sale seems to fall in a grey area no matter how I look at it.