Filed under Gaming

The Joys of Online Gaming

The first of my many rants is now online.  This one is about Online Gaming.  My future rants will include the “new” Battletech, computer game development, the 9/11 attacks (maybe), software piracy, Sci-Fi TV shows, and the quality of computer porn (well, maybe not that last one.)

Playing games over the Internet is a fairly new innovation.  It originated from games like Doom and it’s subsequent clones.  In the old days when someone wanted to play a multiplayer game, they would have to use a LAN or a modem.  But both of those limit the community to people that you know and/or work with.  As the Internet grew in both speed and population games over the net were born.  These games let you join any server from around the world, and play against people that you probably don’t know in person.  At this same time, online gaming sites formed ( anyone?) and these sites cost a monthly fee.

One day an idea arose; “why not charge people annual fees to play games over the Internet?”  This philosophy created very successful games like Ultima Online and Everquest.  But before they came about, there were online services (such as dedicated to hosting, and connecting people to one another.  Ultimately, all of these services went under, primarily because they charged $20 a month to play small collection games over the net, when it was possible to do it for free with some of the new upstarts at the time.  One of these upstarts was Blizzard’s, which allowed players to play Blizzard’s games for free over the net.  Along with, we were given several other free services, like MSN Gaming Zone (Microsoft), that allowed players to play the games not playable on, which turns out to be A LOT of games.  These services became hugely popular (and still are today), with people from around the world competing with one another, and of course cheating in.

So what’s my rant you ask?  Well my problem is that a new trend is forming with computer game companies in the online arena.  Almost all the major computer game companies and several smaller companies have, or are currently developing, a massive multiplayer game (in one form or another) that will cost a monthly fee to play.  There’s simply nothing more satisfying for a company than to have people paying you a monthly fee to play a single game.  But the reality is for a person to play all these games (some of which look really cool), they will need to shell out some big bucks every month.  One ten dollar a month games isn’t so bad, but when you add all these games together, along with Internet access fees, you’re looking at a lot of money.  The good news is that this will spark some serious competition between the rivaling companies, since your “average Joe” won’t be able to partake in all of these games.  But fortunately at the same time there are plenty more games that are “fee free” and are almost as immerse.  However, some of these games (at least the really cool ones) are not going to be in stores for quite some time in either camp (possible future rant.)

I’ve personally played a small number of these online games free, or otherwise, from time to time.  I tried Ultima Online for a little while but I finally got fed up with the cost and the hostility in the environment.  I never had a really good opportunity in that game to explore the lands, since I nearly always traveled alone, which is very dangerous for my character.  Now that I think of it, the lands and the people weren’t too bad, it’s just that I was shelling out $10 a month to run like hell from anything larger than a rat, since every monster, and not to mention player, in this game is really nasty.  Being nice to people never paid off in this game for me.  Oh and another thing, if you’re not out slaying monsters or exploring, you’re hanging around a city attacking a fencing dummy to hone your fighting skills, or worse your wildling baskets to sell to the NPCs (it’s a nice touch, but very boring.)  So, ultimately I canned my account with Ultima Online, and I moved on. Sometime later, I came across a free Ultima Online server (these free servers are really hard to find these days, so don’t ask me where they are) that was not under the control of Origin.  This server was run out of some guy’s basement, and let me tell you, it was a lot more fun than the Origin servers.  The rules set by the administrators were very strict, so player killing and looting was at a minimum, which was rampant on the Origin servers.  The best part was that the server was not jammed up with jerks, most of the people were pretty friendly.  There were only a couple of dozen people on that particular server that I played on, compared to the thousands on the Origin servers.  I actually wished that Origin had originally let the players (consumers) set up their own servers and administer to them.  That way there could be some major variety in the different shards (worlds.)  Some could be all about player killing and others could be about teamwork.  The only really good thing about Ultima Online (other than it’s vastness and player variety) is the fact that it’s fairly cheater free.  I’m pretty sure it was impossible to actually cheat in Ultima Online, because if you do it and get caught Origin kills your account and bans you, or something like that.  But what it takes away from cheating, it makes up for player hostility.  So with Ultima Online you can’t really win no matter how you look at it.

Ultima Online is the only online game that I actually paid an annual fee for, but there are plenty more games that are free that I have given a shot at.  Diablo was my first real experience with online gaming (this happened years ago), and like UO it was a pretty negative experience at that.  This game showed me that cheating really is obnoxious and not to mention rude.  My episode goes like this (note: this was my first time trying I hopped onto one of the many servers (name of it eludes me) and as soon as I got on a couple of guys were just leaving the game, which left me with one other guy.  I started to talk to this guy and he seemed friendly enough, and right off the bat he shows me how to dupe (duplicate) items (cheat #1.)  So he dupes me with the armor and weapons right off his back.  I picked these items up and it turns out that they are “godly” items.  So basically after 5 minutes of playing, my level 1 character has the best weapon and armor in the game.  So I think, “cool it’s time to try this stuff out.”  So my new friend and I head down into the dungeon to cause a little mayhem.  After some time went by, we had dispatched all the monsters on the first few levels without any problems.  Well, that all changed when another person joined our little server, and immediately he started belly-aching at me for using the same name as his character’s (I think my name was “Ash” at the time.)  He eventually shuts up, so I went back to my monster hacking.  Then all of a sudden my character dies, and no it wasn’t from the monsters nearby.  The first guy I meet immediately resurrects me, and suddenly I drop dead again.  Well it turns out that the guy that was winning before has some hack that makes him invisible (cheat #2.)  After that, I was killed a couple more times, where I finally got my carcass back up to the town.  But was I immune to death up there too… no.  Combat is said to be impossible in town, but prick had a “town kill” cheat too (cheat #3.)  After that, I said “to hell with this game,” and I left, never once looking back.  That whole experience destroyed Diablo for me, not to mention the game’s raw suckiness (RPG my ass, that game is a hack-n-slash at best.)  After that, I never played Diablo seriously again, at least over the Internet that is.

So as online RPGs go, I haven’t played one in a long time, too many people on there think they’re playing Doom or something, and don’t actually want to role-play, they just want to kill.  So of course I moved on to a more “level” playing field (another free game.)  Personally, I never really liked raw death matches (i.e. Doom, Quake, etc.), they’re too one-dimensional and repetitive, so I tried something a little different… Team based games.  Now I actually had a lot of fun with these.  The two that I am talking about are Team Fortress Classic and Counter-Strike (note: these games are actually mods for Half-Life.)  Actually having to work together to defeat the opposing team or capture the flag, was a lot more fun than just going around trying to see who can get the most frags (kills.)  Though, of course, these games are not fun when good ol’ friendly-fire is on (note: I hate FF), because almost every time I play with FF, there is some jerk (probably a kid) that’s going around intentionally gunning down his fellow teammates.  Naturally, that behavior is extremely anti-social and should not be encouraged by anyone, and people who do that end up being the ones that shoot up their schools (possible future rant.)   One of the other big problems with team-based games is the lack of actual teamwork.  Everyone playing is out doing their own thing; some people are playing seriously and trying to capture the flag while others just go around causing mayhem.  Fortunately, the latest innovation in online gaming is real-time chat, and with that, good or bad, the players won’t need to rely on the keyboard to send their messages and commands.  This way teamwork becomes a new reality.  Personally, I’m reluctant to use such a tool, since I’m so used to the old fashioned (anonymous) way.  But I guess it really doesn’t matter since I rarely offer my input during a gaming session; I basically don’t talk that much.  The thing that I really hate is when people exploit bugs or flaws in the game, this is particularly rampant in Team Fortress.  Rocket jumping and the like really wreck the balance of the map design.  Being able to hop over a wall when you’re not supposed to doesn’t seem too fair; it makes capturing the flag too easy, and usually becomes a one man job (no teamwork required.)  But I guess people will do anything to win, even if they have to play dirty.  My final gripe with these games has to do with the rampant cheating in Counter-Strike, and a little in Team Fortress.  In most online games it really doesn’t matter if a certain player can see-through walls, or enlarged hit boxes, or do some other silly little trick, because in those games, the bigger gun always wins.  But in Counter-Strike, the game is so finely tuned to perfect balance, that any unlawful edge on the battlefield will destroy the competition.  Counter-Strike is the hardest hit by this since the entire game is based around the “who sees who first,” and “who gets off the first shot.”  Being able to see-through walls really screws up the game for the honest players.  Games are quite simply no fun when you die a lot, and it’s even less fun when it’s at the hands of someone cheating.  But, that’s life I guess. All in all, these are great games in their own respect.  I like Ultima Online’s character variety (no two people in UO are the same, except for the people wearing those damn robes), the amazing vastness in skills (I have never seen a game with so much variety in skills as in this one), and overall hugeness of the game world.  However, I don’t like having to fork out an annual (monthly) fee to have my ass kicked every night by some jackass.  On the other hand, Diablo was a fun game at first (no annual fees), but the replay ability is very lacking and the overall character variety is a joke (everyone was the same.)  My only advice for playing Diablo online is to play with people you know that won’t cheat or kill you.  Counter-Strike and Team Fortress are really fun games as long as everyone plays fair, which they won’t.  Though, I’m really looking forward to some of the upcoming online games such as Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege, and Halo (I don’t know if it’s coming out for the PC or not), all of which will hopefully not be plagued with the above mentioned “problems” and none of them will require any kind of annual fees to play.  But in the end I guess we all need to take online gaming with a grain of salt like everything else in life.  Nothing in life is fair.