Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reflections of a Gamer

Let the past hold on to itself and let the present move forward into the future.
--Douglas Adams

Fanfest 2012 has drawn to a close. While I was not attending, I did try to watch as much of the livestream broadcast as I was able and am grateful to CCP for broadcasting to those of us unable to attend.  The focus of this year's Fanfest was clearly the upcoming launch of DUST514 and in watching CCP discuss their non-EVE projects I began thinking more about them.  How these projects might effect the future of my gaming choices got me thinking about some of my past gaming experience and led to this post.  To those of you who read this blog for its guides; this post isn't for you.  To those who read it for discussion of EVE; this post isn't for you either.  Now that I've alienated 99% of my audience, the rest of you can read on for a post that is equal parts narcissistic look at my past and love letter to CCP Games.

To truly understand my connection to the current and future direction of CCP we need to go back a bit.  Not quite to the beginning, as a child of the 80's I had a Commodore 64, an Atari 2600, and an NES at various times in my youth, but those things aren't really as important to this story.  For the beginning of this story, we can skip forward a bit to my teenage years and Pen & Paper RPGs.  I had been aware of the robe and wizard hat variety à la TSR's Dungeons & Dragons, but didn't have my imagination captured by role-playing games until I came across a property of White Wolf Publishing by the name of Vampire: the Masquerade.

The V:tM property resonated with me, and my friends, for a variety of reasons.  For one, it possessed a broader market appeal than fantasy properties of the time.  You can introduce people to World of Darkness by simply describing it as "Our world, but darker."  That was important to us, because it allowed people who had no interest at all in RPGs to at least give it a try, without having to give them a complete primer on the setting, races, magic, etc as in other RPGs.  By the end of my High School years, we had a group of roughly 20 people who played various WoD RPGs, with a roughly 1:1 ratio of male to female.  If you've ever been a teenage male, I don't think I have to elaborate on why that was also a plus.

Of course, who we could interest in playing the game didn't turn out to be nearly as important as what we could do while playing.  As teenagers, we were not quite ready to be adults, but certainly no longer children.  White Wolf's products gave us an outlet to explore a darker part of the human psyche that we had heretofore been oblivious to as children.  Themes of violence, lust, drug-use and betrayal were all explored by us over the years in an environment that was much safer than us going out and getting high, pregnant or worse.  These friends of mine would grow up to become doctors and teachers; healthy and well-rounded members of society with husbands, wives, and children, but in our youth we were intrigued by these darker elements of the game.

Just as important as the themes of the games was the setting itself.  This idea that our world had something dangerous hiding below the surface.  That the horrors and atrocities committed throughout the history of mankind, that we were only just beginning to understand ourselves, might have somehow been influenced by something even worse than the evil in the hearts of men was appealing.  The World of Darkness itself was a setting on the brink of the end of the world, a concept that resonated on the eve of the millennium and one that is again relevant as we approach the end of 2012.  Everything about it was the perfect storm of us and the world as it was/we were then.

At the same time that I was playing Pen & Paper RPGs, my video gaming was focused on PC Gaming during the birth of the World Wide Web.  I had found myself becoming engrossed in the world of online gaming in an era before the MMO as we know it today, when text based MUDs were still a marvel of technology.  One in particular, by the name of Magrathea, saw me spending literally thousands of hours logged in.  While the game itself isn't that important, the influence it had on my future gaming choices is undeniable.  Anytime someone wants to complain about the learning cliff present in EVE, I can't help but think back to the first time I used a Telnet client to log into a screen of ASCII art and had absolutely no idea what was going on or how I should proceed.  That, dear reader, is what a steep learning curve looks like.  To have any hope for survival a player had to read everything, ask questions to others that had come before you, and generally use trial and error to get anywhere.  By comparison, EVE Online is practically easy, but we've had a decade of games holding our hand to dull our ability to overcome a game's difficulty in order to get at the complex gaming experience underneath.

I've mentioned a couple of times now that these gaming habits would stay with me throughout my High School years and the reason they stopped then deserves some explanation.  In the Fall of 2001, I began my senior year of HS.  At the time I was a young, and by many accounts, talented singer.  My youth had been spent with music, starting almost as soon as I could talk, singing at a Baptist Church in a small town better known now for producing Carrie Underwood.  The path before me looked rather clear with several summers prior spent performing with Oklahoma University's summer honor choirs I was likely to find myself the next year attending there with a scholarship and a Performing Arts major.  Of course, within a month I saw my own future and indeed the future of the world as far less certain.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were a tragedy all across the nation, and although I was 1,500 miles away from New York, they resonated with me for personal reasons.  Six years earlier, the greatest act of domestic terrorism ever to occur on U.S. soil had occurred in Oklahoma.  I remember spending most of that day terrified and confused; it took hours before I was able to establish that my own father had been out of the Murrah Building when the blast occurred.  In the aftermath of that attack, I had mostly felt helpless to do anything about it as a child.  No longer too young to do anything about it, the course of my life would change forever as I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17.

I spent the majority of my time in the Marines under the banner of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, a unit that no longer exists, being disbanded in 2006 to form the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.  As you can probably imagine, the training and deployment schedule of a special operations capable unit left me with very little time for video or role-playing games.  What was far more conducive to that schedule was the video gaming console, having the added benefits of portability and lending itself to short periods of gaming as time allowed.  It was through this lens that I first began playing the First Person Shooter.

I played various FPS titles on the PS2 and PS3 for a period of about five years.  My last great love affair with the genre starting with a midnight release copy of Modern Warfare 2.  I played an unhealthy amount of that game, spending many nights yelling to my then-housemate in another room as we killed countless virtual avatars online.  The same exact scenario played out night after night for months and therein lies the problem that led to my eventual burnout on the FPS; nothing ever changed.

Eventually we got to a point where getting six of our friends into the same game lobby just led to us walking all over the other team.  Sometimes we'd be lucky enough to encounter another group of six players who were also coordinated, but after a few rounds to determine which of the two groups was the best any remaining matches would play out the same way until one side or the other would stop having fun and log out.  When the next sequel in the franchise was being hyped pre-release, no one could point me to any reason it would be different this time.  The next game wasn't so much a sequel as just new maps to play and new guns to play them with, more an expansion pack than a sequel.  This was my last foray into the FPS as I began hoping that someday a game would come along to breath some new life into a genre that I had found becoming quite stale.

It was around the same time that I encountered EVE Online.  I had tried a couple of other MMOs prior to this, but none of them managed to capture my attention in the same way that a text based MUD had all those years ago.  They were all too easy, too grindy, too on-rails.  EVE was everything that those other games had not been and had turned out to be exactly the game I was looking for in an MMO experience.  Of course, EVE isn't perfect, far from it.  Depending on the day you ask me, my list of things wrong with the game might be longer than the list of things right with it, but the underlying concept of EVE is everything I would want an MMO to be.

Imagine then the way my eyes lit up the first time I learned of DUST514.  That CCP, a company known for creating lasting emergent sandbox gameplay, would be developing a FPS.  The possibilities for this title to fill my need for twitch FPS gameplay while having the endless potential for the victories and losses to matter in a persistent gaming universe makes it sound like I had pitched the concept to CCP myself.  Next month starts the closed beta with keys being handed out to Fanfest attendees.  I've already managed to get one of these keys from a friend who was in attendance (Thanks Steve!) and will definitely be including coverage (NDA willing) of DUST514 on this blog.  Hopefully it won't drive off too many readers who are only here for the EVE related posts, but I think that, for all the rage surrounding the perceived notion that CCP was ignoring spaceship development in favor of their new console title, some of you are still curious as to how the game has turned out.

If you can call the experience of me learning that CCP would be tackling the FPS, a genre that I have had great love for in the past, joyful then I lack the words to describe my reaction to learning that CCP would be tackling the WoD, a specific product I have had great love for in the past.  Sometime during my enlistment with the Marines I had lost track of White Wolf Publishing and V:tM.  I was vaguely aware that WW had finally delivered on the promise of the End Times occurring within their product after over a decade of it looming overhead.  I knew that they had started a new line of games, but with little time to focus on RPGs I had never managed to grow interested in learning new systems and a new world.  In fact, I had never heard of CCP before starting EVE and had no idea that the makers of an RPG I had once played were now part of the same company making the MMO I had just started playing.  Once I learned that there was going to be an MMO based on V:tM and it was going to be made by the same people who were making the only MMO I had ever enjoyed playing?  Well, it sounded like a match made in heaven to me.

That's really the crux of this entire post.  While I'm sure my history of gaming is unique to me, I can't imagine that I am the only person out there excited about not just the future of EVE Online, but the future of CCP Games and all of its products.  I'm looking forward to the release of DUST514 and eventually the World of Darkness MMO because they're being made by a game studio that makes a game that I already know and love.  There have been complaints about CCP making games for the Console FPS Gamer or the Vampire RPG player and it taking resources away from the EVE Online Capsuleer's experience.  The complaint always looks at it as though these are all disparate groups of people playing their own games with no crossover whatsoever.  Well, I'm here to tell you I am the EVE Online Capsuleer.  I am the Console FPS Gamer.  I am the Vampire RPG Player.  I for one couldn't be more excited about the future of CCP Games.




  1. I dont know what to say.

  2. Very interesting read. Personally, I hope Dust is wildly successful and makes CCP tons of cash. My gut feeling is that it will only be a mild success due to the crazy amounts of competition among console shooters.

    (Also, Dust would be perfect for PC. Just think of all the old FPS's that people still play. Counterstrike, Killing Floor, Quake 3, UT etc etc)

  3. Nice read. Even though I'm currently without a console for the foreseeable future, I'm still excited for this DUST project. For no other reason than the fact that it reinforces for me that CCP are continually striving to break open the gaming world. EvE (from my experience) is quite unlike any other MMO out there; disregarding the tired staples of the genre for something different, unique and exciting. It's the reason people hate EvE and the reason people love EvE -- I, of course, being the latter.

  4. Wow. An expository piece on an "EVE blog" -- I haven't seen it before, fairly sure you broke new ground there. :-)

    I read your post in the mental voice of the narrator from The Wonder Years, I hope you don't mind terribly, but it seemed fitting. Ah, if only all the pen & paper RPG-playing girls of those times looked like Danica McKellar...

    Anyways, excellent read, hope to see more, even if it IS about DUST rather than EVE.

    Also, thank you for your service, Marine.

    1. Thanks HW, nice to see some appreciation for narrative interspersion out there. Feedback on my writing style from my last post included "heavily confusing, useless, biased, and unreadable garbage" roughly in order of increasing insult, so clearly I'm not for everyone.

      Fun fact; David Stern was also the voice of Dilbert for the animated series, so yeah I'd say that's appropriate. Sorry to hear your gaming group didn't include more Danica...I guess I was just lucky ;)

    2. lol It's ok, my favorite critic likes to remind me I am "a moron, and a terrible PvPer" on a frequent basis. I've decided it suits my purposes, so I added it to my bio, occasionally sign my blog entries and comments with it, etc. :-D

      And yes, you are a dirty, filthy sell-out for writing another :walloftext: about "Mittens, The Mittani, and Alex" (with that one dude that kinda vaguely looks like him and ALWAYS plays a douche in recent movies, as HIM ... directed by Kevin Smith, of course) ...

      I really think we need to start ignoring that dude en masse.