Random: Gamersfirst using SimCity problems to tempt us back to Fallen Earth

I don’t even know what to think of this. Here’s part of an email that hit my inbox last night:

We know you’ve been unfaithful. You’ve been dallying with that new game; you know, that one that’s technically a single player game but you’re being forced to play it online because PIRATES or whatever. And yet, try as you might, that other game just won’t return your affections. With all the “challenges”, disabled features, and random performance issues, it’s nice to know you can return to the warm, loving embrace of that game you’ve always loved, Fallen Earth. And what’s better, Fallen Earth won’t even hold it against you! Not forever, anyway.

Bonus points for the image in the email:


There’s something delightfully ironic about sending out an email calling out the technical difficulties another game is having, and managing to do it with a big fat broken image link in your email.

Convenience vs Immersion

By the standards we use to judge games today, Ultima Online, at launch, was a terrible game full of down time and grinding. Let me give you a recap in case you never played it. The land of Sosaria was mostly wilderness when the game launched. There were a handful of cities with guards that offered limited protection (they either had to observe a crime or ‘hear’ you call for help before they’d intercede), but otherwise it was a brutal place to live. Not only was it an open PVP world, but there were thieves who could pluck items out of your pack. When you died, all your belongings stayed on your corpse, available to anyone not above plundering the dead.

Travel? Initially you walked everywhere, dreaming about having a horse. Getting a horse was a matter of either buying one from another player, or spending a lot of time learning to tame animals (first birds and bunnies, then perhaps dogs and cats, and finally horses) and then training it to be ridable. When you finally got a horse, you’d have to keep it fed and treat it well. A mis-treated animal might escape and return to its wild roots. Assuming you did all that correctly you’d have a trusty steed…until some malice-filled cretin decided to kill it on you.

There was also limited teleportion. You’d have to make or buy a rune and then use it to mark a location, after which you could teleport to that location, assuming you had the required reagents. Those were gathered from the wilderness, either by you or another player.

There were some NPC merchants that sold some very basic items, but their stock was limited. These NPCs would buy items from players as well…assuming they needed what the player had to offer. As an NPC’s stock levels rose, they’d offer less and less for that item until finally they’d just stop buying altogether (one conceit to gameplay…every so often NPC stock would ‘reset’ to get rid of excess materials).

What few ‘quests’ existed were found by talking to various NPCs. These didn’t have an ! on top of their head; you had to find them. Crafting meant tedious gathering of materials and working at a forge or a spinning wheel or whatever tool you needed. Gaining skills meant spending a lot of time in front of a training dummy, or beating up lesser creatures. How’d you know it was a lesser creature? Either by common sense (a rat or a bunny) or by trial and error. There was no ‘con’ system to tell you such & such a creature was 1 level below, or 3 levels above, you. (Heck, there were no levels!)

In short, if Ultima Online version 1.0 launched today it would be ripped to shreds by most gamers and reviewers. And you know what? It was a glorious game. The one game that was so compelling that I truly did get ‘addicted’ to it. I missed work because of that game. Lost sleep. It almost destroyed my relationship. These are not things I’m proud to admit, but I share them just to illustrate how compelling the game was.

Today’s games are kinder, gentler beasts. We have fast travel, and clearly marked quests, and death penalties that don’t even feel like penalties. Why? Because that’s what players say they want. We complain if we have to spend more than a few minutes traversing the world to meet up with friends. We complain if we lose progress. We complain if we have to repeat the same actions multiple times, calling the game a grindfest.

And the developers hear us and they adjust their designs to give us what we want.

And the more the devs do this, the more I hear about RPG ennui. People jump from game to game, looking for something sticky but not finding it. They give up the genre altogether, or resign themselves to retreating to whatever game they have high-level characters (or a bunch of friends) in. Often this retreat is done out of resignation rather than enthusiasm.

Enter Fallen Earth and Demon’s Souls. Now the latter isn’t an MMO, but the point I’m making isn’t limited to MMOs. Both of these games buck the trend of adding convenience to games. Fallen Earth has no fast travel. It doesn’t have an apocalyptic Walmart where you can go and buy anything and everything you need. You have to ‘grind’ a lot in terms of gathering materials to get good enough to make the items you need, or to get enough cash up to buy what you need from other players or the few NPC suppliers out there. It isn’t a complete throwback, mind you. The death penalty is very light, there’s no theft and your transport can’t be killed or stolen.

But a lot of what Fallen Earth does is ‘wrong’ by the standards players demand from modern games. And yet people who try it out tend to stick with it. This shouldn’t be. The game isn’t all that polished, the graphics pale in comparison to something like Aion, the interface is kind of clunky and has to be learned. But the population of the game continues to grow while that of Aion and Champions Online apparently dwindles.

Demon’s Souls should be a flop, too. It’s an RPG with no quests, a relatively stiff death penalty, a ton of grinding, non-consensual PvP and game systems that can only be figured out by trial and error. And yet all the reviews that I’ve read have been glowing, and the community is enthusiastic as hell. The game is compelling and engrossing.

What’s the common theme between Fallen Earth and Demon’s Souls? Immersion. All the convenience factors in modern games make them feel like modern games. The boring stuff, the frustrating stuff…that makes these games feel like immersive worlds. Without pain there can be no pleasure, to go all zen on you. A reward without any struggle just isn’t as sweet (for many of us) as a reward we had to work for.

This doesn’t apply to everyone who plays games. Not in the slightest. But it applies to those of us who still embrace the Role Playing in RPgs. I’m not talking about role playing in the sense of gathering with a few other players and doing a skit. I mean the internal role playing that some of us do. The role playing that lets us use these games as portals to other worlds, the same way a good book can do.

If you don’t know what I mean by that, this post won’t make sense and I’m sure you’ll disagree with it. That’s fine. But if you get what I’m saying…if you know the delight of just sinking into a good virtual world and existing in there for a few hours, then please give Fallen Earth and/or Demon’s Souls a try. Both are excellent ‘throw-back’ games that bring the immersion back to our hobby. Games like this need our support. We need to send a message to game developers that there are still players who appreciate a good immersive game, and who still appreciate a challenge.


Over the weekend I was finally able to log back into Fallen Earth, thanks to my lame arm improving a bit and a change of keyboard (why it took me so long to think about changing keyboards, I do not know). It was nice to ease back into the apocalypse!

Usually when I take a break from a relatively new MMO I feel quite ‘behind’ when I return, but that wasn’t the case with Fallen Earth. Apparently the game is growing slowly (the launch itself was fairly modest) since there were still plenty of newbies running around the starter towns, and plenty of neophyte questions being asked in the Regional channels.

Additionally, and maybe this is just me, but Fallen Earth doesn’t feel all that level based anyway. Yeah, getting levels nets you a nice stash of AP that you can spend on skills, but you can also earn AP from doing quests, which is why at level 6 I’m still in a starter town. I’m wandering from village to village, getting quests, salvaging and harvesting materials and learning to craft stuff. I don’t feel any particular urgency to ‘level up’ in this world. What ultimately drives me is increasing my crafting skills, meaning I need lots of materials, which in turn means I do lots of exploring.

Honestly, I assumed FE was going to get savaged by the greater MMO community. It isn’t the most intuitive game in the world, nor is it the prettiest. There aren’t (m)any flashy loot drops and there’s no fast travel (at least that I’ve found). You have to feed your horse, put gas in your ATV, buy or make ammo for your guns. Basically it has few of the ‘modern conveniences’ we’ve come to expect in MMOs. And yet people seem to like it.

I know I sure like it, and it felt great getting back into a virtual world after a forced layoff.

MMOitus interuptus

Regular readers may have noticed a distinct lack of posts about Fallen Earth and Champions Online recently.

I just wanted to very briefly explain that I’m not posting because I’m not playing, but the reason I’m not playing has nothing to do with interest level in the games.

I have a semi-chronic condition with my left arm — I’d say it was carpal tunnel except it isn’t in my wrist, it’s higher up my arm. My upper arm starts to really ache and my fingers start to go numb, and WASD (and to a lesser extent, typing in general) aggravates the condition when it flares up. And I’m in the middle of a doozy of a flareup right now.

I work at a keyboard all day (I’m a web developer by trade) and I write posts for ITWorld; neither of those activities can be curtailed. So the only ‘break’ I can give myself is to stop PC gaming and stop ‘recreational’ writing until things calm down.

So sadly, frustratingly, that’s where I am now. I keep logging in to Fallen Earth because I’m so drawn to it, then after 10 minutes my arm is really hurting so I log off.

Thankfully I have console games to get me through. Using a controller doesn’t bother me (different muscles I guess?). Oh, for an MMO on console. C’mon Turbine! C’mon SOE! Get those console MMOs finished!

Anyway. I just didn’t want anyone to construe my lack of posts with me losing interest in either of the games I’ve been talking about recently. Quite the contrary…I’m itching to play (and post). I just can’t right now. Hopefully I’ll be back soon!

Starter towns empty out [Fallen Earth]

I finally got to log into Fallen Earth tonight, only to found South Berg was more or less deserted. I guess the hardcore gamers have all moved on to more challenging areas, and we casuals just don’t all log in on a weeknight.

I loved it. I’m not being as anti-social as that sounds, really. After all this *is* a post-apocalyptic world and (it seems to me) population should feel a bit sparse. Plus stocking up on harvesting materials was so much easier than it was when the place was crawling with players. For example, there’s a quest to mine scrap copper from a quarry in South Burg. If memory serves, I needed 10 bits of scrap copper for that quest and I think it took me about 30 minutes to do on the weekend. There was *so* much competition for the limited nodes that as soon as one popped, 3 or 4 players would jump on it. Tonight in about 15 minutes I harvested ~40 bits of scrap copper and could have done more if my pack hadn’t grown too heavy.

Then I set up a ton of crafting jobs. 10 batches of zip gun ammo, a bunch of “fried chicken” (really fried crawler meat, but it tastes just like irradiated chicken! Which is not to be confused with Prairie Chicken, a specimen of which is shown below), a fingerless glove for myself (I’d made one before, not realizing “fingerless glove” was literally 1 glove, so my poor dude is running around with 1 fingerless glove and 1 hand wrap) and 3 pairs of moccasins (to skill up armor-making — if anyone needs a pair let me know). I’m going to estimate that’s about 3 hours of crafting time.

With that done, I decided to jog over to Mumford, another starter town. See, as you gain experience you get APs (I forget what that stands for… Achievement Points maybe? Attribute Points?). You spend these to bump up your stats and skills. But some quests give you bonus AP, and every starter town has different quests that give these bonus AP. So min/max characters are going to do each of the 9 starter towns to wring out every bit of bonus AP they can. I don’t know as I’ll go that far but I’m still working my tradeskills and am happy noodling around in ‘easy mode’ so I’ll at least do Mumford and maybe North Burg.

On the way there I found a nice patch of Woolly Cactus (Cactus is a miracle plant in Fallen Earth. There’s burning cactus that gives acid, water cactus that gives tainted water, cactus cactus that gives cactus and the woolly cactus that gives wool.) and Cotton Plants, so I harvested those and marked the spot on my map for later. Then a decent patch of copper and finally a crashed plane with lots of salvage opportunities, once I took care of the Blade Dancers loitering about. Hey by then I had a few batches of zip gun ammo and that stuff gets heavy. May as well indulge in a bit of target practice and cut down the riff-raff in the area! By that time my pack was full again so I trudged into town. LOTS of work to be done there, but after dumping some extra ore and other heavy items in the bank, I logged for the night.

To a lot of people, this is going to sound like a really dull night of gaming, but to me it was really enjoyable. I love scraping together the odds and ends I need to craft something, and of course I love exploring and finding things.


‘Real-time’ MMO gaming

Crafting in Fallen Earth happens in real time. When you set up your crafting UI to make something, you get a display of how long it’ll take to make. Stuff I’m making now (crossbows, zip guns, clothing) generally takes 8-10 minutes to make. Once you start the process, you can go do whatever you want. Hunt Bladedancers, scavenge for materials, or even log off.

I’m surprised at how much impact this system has on me.

Now this is all going to be old hat for EVE players, I know, since EVE characters study skills in a similar way.

I just laugh at myself when Angela lets me know dinner is ready and I say “Just a sec…have to start building a new crossbow!” because I don’t want that down time wasted. 🙂 I’m sure this urge to log in constantly and set up crafting queues will ease with time, but for now it’s making me feel ‘connected’ to the game in a way that most MMOs don’t.

I didn’t get much chance to play last night, since I was watching Monday Night Football, but I did log in to start making a medium level zip gun for myself.

One important tip I’ve learned too late. [Just to be clear, I read this on the forums late last night and haven’t personally tested it yet, but the knowledge seemed accepted by the community so I assume its true.] If the difficulty of an item is no more than 30 less than your skill level, you’ll earn skill points making it. I, based on years of MMO crafting, figured I needed to make “white” items (items with a difficulty level similar to my skill level) in order to maximize progress, leaving the “green” stuff behind. This got expensive because all the ‘white’ stuff was pretty complex and required lots of mats, some of which I need to buy from an NPC vendor.

I more or less went broke doing this, when I could’ve been skilling up making (“green”) crossbow bolts or zip-gun ammo, both of which require very few mats, and mats that are cheap to buy and easy to harvest. I think zip-gun ammo requires 2 bits of scrap copper — even if you have to buy it, NPC’s sell scrap copper for 7 chips (at least, that’s the cost in South Burg). Really common vendor trash loot from mobs (teeth, feathers and junk) sell for 2 chips each, so it just takes a couple kills to get enough chips to buy mats for a batch of zip-gun ammo (and if you’re harvesting you can sell tainted meat and random bio chemicals you get off your kills for even more).

🙂 I think Fallen Earth is under my skin. I can’t wait to put more time into it.

That’s a nice feeling to have, given that it was more or less a spur-of-the-moment purchase for me.

Fallen Earth: Day 2

That’s my day 2, not the game’s day 2. Thursday we were out and about and I didn’t get a chance to play. But last night I played for 5-6 straight hours, which for me is a huge block of time. I rarely play an MMO for more than an hour straight.

I’m happy to say I didn’t experience a single crash, lag was vastly reduced (though there is still work to be done there) and spawn rates of resources and mobs seemed to be ratcheted up (or maybe folks had just moved on from the starter area).

I’m still learning, still finding my way. My character has made it to level 4. Part of the reason for his slow growth is my spending so much time crafting and learning how to do things, but part of it also seems to be a generally slower leveling pace in Fallen Earth than we’ve become used to. And this is no loot-fest. So far I’ve found a head-wrap thing, a pair of moccasins, a t-shirt and a wood plank that acts as a 2-handed club. That’s the total of dropped, usable loot so far. Mind you I’ve crafted some better items.

Crafting feels like so big a part of the game that I wonder what it’s like to play as a non-crafter. Between harvesting things, fiddling with recipes, and doing crafting-oriented quests I’d wager 70% of my play time last night was devoted to crafting. Luckily I enjoy crafting. The system here is unusual because crafting takes time. If you’ve played EVE Online, crafting here works like skill leveling there. It takes real time and you can log off and crafting will continue. At low levels most stuff is really fast, but one item I made took 10 minutes of real time (I’m told there are items that can take weeks). You can speed that up a bit by standing at a crafting station, which makes for these weird tableaus of characters standing stock still around a station for long periods of time. If you’re not in a hurry, you just start the crafting and go about your business. As you run around hunting things or doing fetch and carry quests, the crafting happens automagically in your pack. I imagine my character working on his ‘project’ during times he stops for a rest or to wait for an enemy patrol to pass by.

I still love the feeling of South Burg, the starter area I’m in. The music is right out of a western and at times the game will look like an Old West MMO. Then you’ll turn and see the sun setting behind the shattered remains of an elevated highway (see below) or an ATV will ride past, or you’ll run into a huge mutated bug. Then you remember where you are.

It’s a rich role-play environment for me. A lot of players have done a great job with their names (though it bugs me, as it always does, that “The Older Gamers” guild is here with their guild tag — it always breaks immersion for me). Most other guilds have fitting names for the setting: Soldiers of Fortune, Old Timers Guild, Rangers of the Fall…that sort of thing. Pretty small percentage of out-of-setting names, but given the world there’s a lot of leeway.

(When I say role-play, I mean my style of role-play which is probably not yours. Some day I’ll do a post on this. But I mean I ‘fall into’ the game and start thinking internally in terms of being the character, not playing a game. When a game really grabs me in this role-play way, I’ll completely forget the real world is around me. It’s being “in the zone” or “feeling Flow” or whatever you want to call it, only doing it as my character. That to me is what role-play in an MMO is all about. Your definition most certainly is very different and I understand that.)

The reticle-based combat is taking some getting used to. It isn’t as slick as the same sort of combat was in Tabula Rasa. Middle mouse button puts you into targeting mode. Buttons fire/attack. Ctrl+# switches weapons. But at the end of a battle you have to switch out of targeting mode to loot (or I haven’t found the way to do it while keeping the reticle up). It’s easy to forget to do that and shoot a round into the ground, which matters since ammo is something finite that you have to buy or make. It’s hard to hit someone right in front of you with a crossbow (my weapon of choice for now until I can get my hands on a rifle) and I’m conflicted about that. Part of me thinks that’s realistic since its a fairly unwieldy weapon and any enemy would certainly circle around you preventing you from bringing it to bear (which is what they do in game). But part of me things it’d be easy to jam the point of the bolt into a bad guy’s belly and pull the trigger.

Happy thoughts. Anyway, I do think the combat could use some on-going refinement and polish. Switching from targeting mode to non-targeting mode doesn’t feel quite as crisp as it should to me. But it gets the job done, for now.

Anyway, I need to go. I have to mine some copper in order to make myself a second zip gun, and the early scavenger catches the worm, as they say.

I still think most modern MMO players would be somewhat horrified if they tried Fallen Earth, but there seems to be a decent sized community of pre-order players in-game. (There’s only 1 server: Icarus Studios clearly knows they’re building a niche MMO.) I’m hoping there’ll be enough of a population to keep the devs in beans and bacon (or canned dogfood and green milk, to keep the terminology in-game) so they can continue to grow the game. I’d love to see housing added. In such a crafting-heavy game, being able to set up a lean-to surrounded my trip-wires and such just seems a natural fit.


Fallen Earth: Day 1

Today was the launch day for Fallen Earth pre-order customers. Which is kind of strange since I guess the game is now launching Sept. 22nd? So we get almost 13 days of Early Access. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

The launch hasn’t been perfect, but launches are such a small part of the long-term experience of an MMO that I’m not going to dwell on that. And Fallen Earth isn’t for everyone. If you think EQ2 is too complex, or if you don’t like to have to read tutorial screens, you’re going to *hate* Fallen Earth. It’s old school in a lot of ways, which means frankly lots of sharing data with other players and lots of figuring things out.

I’m enjoying the heck out of this aspect, frankly. I feel like I’ve stepped back 10 years in some ways. Actually, if you have fond memories of killing birds to harvest their feathers to make arrows to hunt with in Ultima Online, then you should give Fallen Earth a look.

The graphics aren’t state of the art, but the music is awesome and some of the voice talent is quite good. The ambiance works if you take the time to read quest text (or listen in the case of spoken quests). It’s a post apocalyptic world set in the Grand Canyon area. Lots of people ride horses and it has a kind of Old West vibe in some ways (the music really helps there).

I laughed when I got a quest to literally kill ten large rats because I know how many people would sniff with disdain at encountering such a quest, but the fact is I was hunting the rats even before I got the quest. Hunting them and harvesting the corpses to get meat and chemicals for crafting. So adding a quest to what I was already doing was just a bonus.

But yes, this is the kind of game where you start out weak and poor enough that harvesting rat meat is worth your time.

In fact so far my time has been split 3-ways. 1 part roaming around, getting the lay of the land and figuring out how the game works, 1 part hunting various animals to harvest crafting materials, and 1 part doing quests.

As a pre-order bonus, I got an ATV. It appeared in the form of a key in my inventory. Once I used that key, up popped an ATV. But gas is expensive and I really didn’t need to travel very far. I figured I’d be better off walking for now. I didn’t want to just leave my ATV sitting around where who knows what might happen to it, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get it to change back into a key in my inventory.

I finally found out that this can’t be done. So what to do with this ATV? Find a garage. Where’s the garage? Well someone told me it was on the outskirts of town, so I had to roam around until I finally found it, and then I parked the ATV there. Other pre-orders got a horse, and the garage also offered stables. (BTW, the horse seems a lot cooler than the ATV, but the ATV has more storage space.)

If that level of ‘reality’ sounds tedious and annoying, then you’ll hate Fallen Earth. But if you’re ready for a bit of a step back to a time when MMORPGs were a bit different, a bit more opaque but in many ways richer for being more opaque, then keep watching this space as I dig deeper into the game. I think I’m going to throw my lot in with the Vistas, a sort of post-apocalyptic Greenpeace offshoot. They can teach me to shoot with a rifle AND to farm. A good combo for us lone wolf types.