Weekend Roundup: CoH, WoW, and Farmville!

And finally, WoW – and other games. Including, in possibly its first ever appearance on MMO Melting Pot, Farmville…

  • Amijade writes a great, calming guide to all the things that will probably confuse and dismay us when Mists arrives“If you thought the flooding of information about the beta was already too much to handle, or if you thought the flood of information about the last patch was a lot…sit back, hang tight and hold-on! “
  • Olivia Grace at WoW Insider looks at the massively heated argument around account-bound achievements“Perhaps modifying the titles to something along the lines of “the original Bloodthirsty” would help, so that there’s a way to discern those who really did kill 250,000 people on one character from those who didn’t.”
  • The Grumpy Elf writes a great bit of nostalgia about his first ever companion pet in WoW“I had my cat and all I could summon was my cat. Why could I not summon my owl, I wanted to go out fighting with my owl. “
  • Ironyca rounds up some of the particularly impressive Transmogrification outfits from the recent Mog Madness competition“This is not to say that these are my 12 overall favourites, it’s more an opportunity for me to throw some more praise around. I don’t think I would be able to pick my favourites anyways, there were so many really strong mogs, it would be too hard!”
  • Sente defends NCSoft, the publishers and cancellers of City Of Heroes, who have taken a fair amount of flak lately“I do not see NCSoft as an evil company that cares nothing for its customers/players nor will I boycott everything that has NCSoft attached to it.”
  • And Pete at Dragonchasers takes a look at the sequel to a classic MMO that looks likely to take the market by storm. No, not Guild Wars 2. Farmville 2“If you add friends to your farm neighborhood, once a day they’ll show up at your farm and you can use them to finish some task. This is a great way to get long-duration crops quickly since your friend insta-harvests whatever you point them at. I was actually having fun playing Farmville 2 until I learned about milk bottles.”

Hope you had a great weekend!

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Are computer games doomed to be violent forever?

Computer games are, it must be said, almost intrinsically linked with simulated violence. With only a very few exceptions, they rely on either violence or other forms of high-testosterone danger (moving fast around a track) to make them work at all.

But will that always be the case? We’ve seen more games like “Dear Esther” in the recent past, which totally eschew violence – and many people believe that as the medium grows up, we’ll be able to get our conflict from more subtle places.

However, Stubborn from Sheep The Diamond has been thinking about this topic recently – and he isn’t so confident that gaming will ever escape violence as a primary conflict

“According to Molyneux, the most immediate problem in game design is a problem of AI. He recounts a story (this is all from The Art of Immersion by Frank Rose) where in an earlier game, Black and White, a God-style game like Populous, his studio created a creature that could be taught how to treat the peasants of the game. However, its prime function was feeding, and they programmed it to eat whatever the closest, most nutritious source of food was. Upon booting the creature up, it began to eat its own legs. This, of course, is a typical AI error, but it gets to the source of the problem: even good AI is stupid.

Since making truly smart AI is so difficult, Molyneux predicts that more and more video game interactions will move towards violence. If you think about it, it makes sense; it’s hard to get realistic interaction in a video game with an AI. Either you present extremely limited choices for interaction with heavily scripted responses, or you simply don’t allow that kind of interaction at all. Consider the top genres in the market at the moment: FPS and MMOs. In an FPS, the only interaction you usually have is shooting the bad guys. There might be some quests pick-ups, like in Borderlands, but for the most part, easily 95% or more of the game, you’re just going to be shooting stuff.

MMOs aren’t much different. Yes, you have more interactions, as in Star Wars, but in the end, most of the conversations are on rails, and a vast majority of the game is solving problems with violence. It’s simply easier, and developers don’t want to struggle to overcome such a challenge when they can just pump out a sequel to Gears of War 2 and make millions with just violence.”

I’ve not heard the “AI is hard” argument for why violent video games are inevitable before, and it’s an interesting one. Certainly it explains why pen-and-paper or live-action roleplaying games have a much easier time escaping the “all violence, all the time” trap – a human GM can simulate complex interactions and give players their adrenaline kick from social interaction.

Nonetheless, I’d argue that it’s already apparent that the AI element isn’t the only way to solve the non-violence puzzle. From stealth games (which don’t rely on very sophisticated AI, as the decade-old Thief proves) to crafting games like Wurm and Minecraft (and even Farmville), to PvP games where the social interaction is provided by other humans (and the upcoming World of Darkness MMO will be interesting there) there are a number of ways to skin the cat without violence, so to speak. As the artform gets older and its players do too, I think we’ll almost inevitably see a larger segment of the gaming world embracing other forms of difficulty and conflict.

Will games always be largely violent, or are other gameplay styles popular enough to take over?

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