Embracing the hype

For some reasoning I’m feeling optimistic and upbeat today, so I wanted to talk about hype and how I think we (ok mostly I, but there’s some of you like me out there too) need to learn to embrace it.

Full stop: I’m not talking about PR hype that’s coming from some marketing department about a game that’s not even finished yet. I’m talking about hype from our friends. Seeing the people we hang out with on social media get really jazzed about something. Maybe “buzz” is a better word?

Anyway… I feel like we can react to hype 3 ways. We can embrace it, we can ignore it, or we can demean it.

I find it’s often REALLY tempting to demean it, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m just an asshole. But if so I’m not the only asshole around. I’m trying to be better. Like when Warlords of Draenor came out a lot of my friends were SUPER-pumped. I personally am not a fan of WoW but as far as I know I managed not to jeer about the expansion or try to demean anyone’s hype for the game.

A more passive-aggressive way of demeaning hype is with “flavor of the month” comments. Not everyone says “flavor of the month” in a derogatory way, but some do. Y’know the kind of thing: “Oh, so WoW is the FOTM now? I give it less than a month and you’ll all be playing something else.” (With the implication being this is a bad thing.) I’m really guilty of this, too. I get irrationally annoyed when a friend finds some new game and starts talking about how much fun he or she is having and that causes a bunch of other friends to try that game. I’m not sure why this bothers me…it has something to do with knowing that while these people are saying this is THE GAME TO PLAY today, I know they’ll be playing something else in a few weeks or months. But why THAT bothers me…I just can’t figure out. And if I can’t figure it out, it must not be very important and it’s just a bad habit I need to rid myself of.

I’m thinking about all this because of the Guild Wars 2 expansion announcement this morning. I don’t like Guild Wars 2…for whatever reason I just can’t get into it. But today instead of getting snarky I paddled hard to catch up and then dropped into the wave of hype and enthusiasm and rode it for all it was worth (yes apparently today is the day for surf analogies) and y’know what? It was FUN. I watched the twitch stream from the event with one eye and the buzz on Twitter with the other and it was really cool seeing all my friends so excited for this new expansion, and the next thing you know I was updating my Guild Wars 2 client.

So Guild Wars 2 is the flavor of the month, or week, or day, or year. And y’know what? That’s awesome. I’ll give it another go. Maybe it’ll stick this time, probably it won’t. But at least for the time I’m playing I can share in the discussion with my friends. And that’s a lot more fun than standing on the sidelines making snarky comments about the game.

Renegade Ops and the new gaming outlook

Renegade Ops is a twin-stick shooter from Sega that came out in 2011. You can buy it on Steam; I’m playing it on the PS3. The game world of Renegade Ops is broken up into Missions or Stages. You play as one of several characters, each with a unique special ability. Your character earns experience as you play and when it levels up it gets points to spend towards various perks. Each character has 3 tracks of perks and within a track you have to unlock perks sequentially. You can equip 4 perks at a time. Aside from earning perk points, character level doesn’t matter as far as I can tell. You don’t get more health or firepower based on level, just based on the perks you equip.

Renegade Ops has no manual save system. You start the game with a finite number of lives (this number can be increased by certain perks) and when you’re out of lives it’s game over, start over from the beginning of the stage you last died on. Your character level is persistent and is saved as soon as you achieve a new level, so each time you begin again you’ll be higher level even if you didn’t complete a stage.

I hadn’t played Renegade Ops in a long time. When I went back to it last night I was on Stage 9 and my favored character was level 30-something. I’d unlocked all the perks in one track (a track centered on her special power, which is to call in an airstrike) and about half in a second track (a track centered on increasing health and starting lives), and it looks like I was ignoring the third track (a track centered on ammo).

The game felt pretty fresh to me when I first started playing again. It’s a fun but pretty simple game. You’re in a vehicle and have a primary weapon and can find a secondary weapon. Primary ammo is unlimited. Enemies drop powerups for the primary weapon, a variety of secondary weapons (you can swap out a dropped weapon for whatever is currently equipped, losing the equipped weapon), health packs, and ammo packs for the secondary weapons. I got a good way into the stage before I lost all my lives. I started over, played for long time and died again. Started a 3rd time, and by now my memory of the game had started to return, and I remembered frustration. I got to what I think is the end of the stage and there’s this long fight in a constrained space and I lost my last life there.

At that point I rage-quit and pulled up the menu to delete the game forever because I felt like I was never going to beat it. Yeah I unlocked a few more perks during these attempts but nothing that felt like they were going to significantly change things. The problem was my skill level and a certain amount of cheapness to the game (powerful enemies will start firing on you before you can see them, shooting at you from off-screen). And I thought “What a shame, I was having fun, too.”

And then the new gaming outlook kicked in. I WAS HAVING FUN. So what if I didn’t beat the stage and move on to another stage where the mechanics would be essentially the same. Renegade Ops doesn’t have a compelling story…it barely has a story at all. I thought back to the old arcade days. I didn’t play Asteroids or Defender to ‘beat’ them; I played them because they were fun to play. Sure I wanted to do better but I wasn’t trying to finish them so I could move on to something else.

I realized I was playing Renegade Ops to ‘finish’ it so I could set it aside. (Part of the reason I started this delve into older games is that my PS3 hard drive is getting full and I wanted to ‘knock out’ a few games so I could delete them and free up space.)

I didn’t delete Renegade Ops. And I’ll play it some more. But I won’t play it to ‘beat it.’ I’ll play it because it’s semi-mindless fun. Unlimited ammo and huge explosions and nothing the least bit heavy. There’s no story to speak of, no lesson being taught…it’s just a fun “blow shit up” kind of game. And I’m going to treat it that way. If I never get off of Stage 9, so what, as long as the moment-to-moment gameplay is scratching an itch.

But it’s still nice to have a goal. So my new goal will be to unlock all the perks for this character, just to say I’ve done it. Or maybe I’ll level up some of the other characters. We’ll see. And yeah, sure, I’ll still be TRYING to beat Stage 9, but I’ll try not to get frustrated if I don’t make it. And when driving around causing mayhem stops being fun I’ll just set the game aside again, until sometime months or years from now I get the itch again.