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Field Journal

The best of Massively's Field Journal and MMO Mechanics columns

Culture, Game Mechanics, Massively Meta, Guides, Miscellaneous, MMO Mechanics, Field Journal

MMO MechanicsDuring their tenure at Massively, Tina Lauro and Matthew Gollschewski were responsible for two generalist columns on the site: MMO Mechanics and Field Journal, respectively. The Field Journal was dedicated to covering interesting elements of mid-tier games, the sorts of MMOs that are popular but not quite popular enough to merit their own dedicated columns, whereas MMO Mechanics represented a deep-dive into the game mechanics and systems that influence the entire industry. Though the columns had short runs on the site, they both still represent some of our most compelling and interesting work. Enjoy this roundup of their material!

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Field Journal: A strong CoHmmunity

Super-hero, City of Heroes, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Sunsets, MMORPG, Field Journal

It can never be the same, but it can be good.
Last week a package arrived for me, sent by the incomparable Beau Hindman. He had been clearing out some of his old gaming paraphernalia, and when he happened on his old City of Heroes disks, something spurred him to offer them freely to anyone in the team who wanted them. I gratefully accepted. Ever since they arrived, they've dominated my thoughts, despite some highly dramatic events in the time since, weighty and uplifting alike. It's a game that just keeps inspiring acts of generosity and kindness.

I started playing CoH on the very day it went free-to-play, but it struck a chord with me nearly instantly. I soon found it had an amazing community on top of everything the developers were responsible for, and that's when I fell in love. It went from "that old game probably no one plays anymore" to "the best MMO I have ever played" to "the cancellation that broke my heart" in all too short a time. Fortunately, the example set by the incredible community and its determination to carry the torch helped to mend my coronary fractures. As much as there is to learn from all aspects of MMOs, the single most important element will always be community. I can think of no finer example to look to than CoH.

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Field Journal: Picking up the pieces of Fallen Earth

Fallen Earth, Business Models, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Post-Apocalyptic, Crafting, Field Journal

Today. At the edge of the Grand Canyon, after the end of civilization, we have chosen not only to read old manuals, but to write new ones. Today there is not a clone here that shall scavenge alone. Not today. Today we face the prairie chickens that are at our door and roast them. Today, we are crafting the post-apocalypse!
I was introduced to Fallen Earth way back in the mists of time, around when I first started reading Massively. It was one of the earliest Choose My Adventures, and I was so impressed that I made my own account and joined in on the fun part of the way through. My character even made a few cameos in the column later on.

I have a lot of fond memories of the game, and a significant part of that is due to the crafting system. There are some really good ideas in there, even if the execution has always been a bit flawed. Despite those flaws, I wouldn't trade my early days with the game for anything. Well, other than a better version of the same game.

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Field Journal: Tortage and the problem of starting areas

Fantasy, Age of Conan, Game Mechanics, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, MMORPG, Field Journal

Shockingly, I didn't see anyone else running around topless.
It's been quite a while since I've played Age of Conan. Rather than try to figure out where I had left off and what I should be doing with my existing character (and possibly ending up with nothing much to write about), I decided to start anew. The starting experience in and around the sub-tropical pirate city of Tortage is rather distinct. Since I'm already familiar with it, I knew I could find enough in it for an entry in this journal.

So I leaped into the fray on my Stygian Herald of Xotli to refresh my memory while slicing, dicing, and frying pirates. I had a fair bit of fun doing so, but from the start, I had one nagging complaint distracting me: This isn't very representative of the game after Tortage. It's true that few starting areas in MMOs are, but AoC makes for an interesting case in how sharp that division is.

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Field Journal: Across the DC Universe

Super-hero, Culture, Lore, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Consoles, Roleplaying, DC Universe Online, MMORPG, Field Journal

The Slappiest Place On New Earth
Funny story: DC Universe Online was the first superhero MMO I played to any meaningful extent. I briefly dabbled with Champions Online when it went free-to-play, but it didn't grab me enough to make me continue past the introductory area. A couple of months later I gave the still-fresh-from-launch DCUO a try. The game gripped me for the next four months, and though I would eventually find City of Heroes to be the crown jewel of capes-and-tights massively multiplayer games, DCUO is still one of my favorite MMOs.

Why is that? There are several factors: the feel of combat, abundant collections that satiate my compulsions to find all the things, a costume system that lets me change any part on the fly, the inclusion of an achievement system that actually means something, and a vigorous update schedule including quite a lot of new power sets over time. Even little things contribute a lot, like how much of a badass I feel running at super speed up the side of a building and flinging myself from the apex for several blocks to land running up the side of another huge skyscraper. The biggest reason for me, though, has to be how well-realized the setting is in the game -- how Sony Online Entertainment has capitalized on the license to present a snapshot of the DC Universe at its best.

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Field Journal: Making peace with Vanguard

Fantasy, Lore, PvE, Opinion, Vanguard, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Roleplaying, Sunsets, MMORPG, Field Journal

Always, I wanna chat with you, and make a pact with you, and live in diplomacy! Diplomacy! Oh mobs!
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is a weird game. It seems almost purposefully to have been designed to turn away players before they can get a chance to see any of the good in it. Although I've tried it before, I've only recently been able to find some of that good, much to my even more recent dismay.

One of those good things I've found is the Diplomacy system. There's nothing revolutionary about it, but it is a solid and interesting minigame that stands apart from anything most MMOs offer. It's more than just a minigame, though; it's integrated with other systems to create a distinct and worthwhile approach to playing the game apart from adventuring. What makes a simple, card-based tug-of-war all that? I'll try to explain.

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Field Journal: Neverwinter gonna let you down

Fantasy, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Roleplaying, Guides, Neverwinter, Player-Generated Content, MMORPG, Field Journal

We're no strangers to bad storytelling.
My original plan to talk about some of the better quests in Neverwinter's Foundry has been replaced with the burning need to rant about some of the common pitfalls in the less stellar entries. I'm not going to mention anything by name because I'm not here to shame anyone. I just need to explore some of the stupid design decisions that keep cropping up.

I make no claim to great skill with the Foundry myself. I still haven't gotten around to much map decorating in my first adventure, though I did pull the trigger on publishing. (You can find it with the ID: NW-DNGJU57ID.) What I can claim is a critical eye and an understanding of what makes a good story with the tools Neverwinter gives you to tell them. There are plenty of good stories, so picking something from the featured pile will usually work out great, but when you go digging in the new and unrated adventures for hidden gems, you'll find far more rough than diamonds.

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Field Journal: Seeking instant gratification in RIFT

Fantasy, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, RIFT, MMORPG, Field Journal

Let's go away, you and I, to a strange and distant land.
I've always been pretty open about my feelings on RIFT: I have an immense admiration for the mechanical ideas and the sheer effort Trion makes, but the world-building and aesthetic choices put me to sleep. The game firmly belongs in the category of those games I wish I liked but don't.

While I played the game's first 20-something levels (not to mention trying out several alts into their teens) early in its existence, it just could not hold me. Further attempts, such as during free weekends, in the unlimited free trial, and after the conversion to free-to-play, uniformly resulted in my milling about for a couple of hours before getting bored and uninstalling yet again. Maybe if I ignored the world entirely and focused purely on constant activity, I could get into it. Fortunately, RIFT's Instant Adventure system offers just what I need to test that theory.

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Field Journal: Floundering in Neverwinter's Foundry

Fantasy, Bugs, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Roleplaying, Neverwinter, Player-Generated Content, MMORPG, Field Journal

It's surprisingly fiddly to have objects lie perfectly flush with the floor.
Given that I'm a roleplayer, you might think that I find Neverwinter's Foundry an amazing expressive tool that I relish wholeheartedly. To that I respond with a resounding sort of! I love that it exists and seeing all the neat, even mind-blowing creations of others. Actually using it to make something of my own, though? That's pretty daunting, and I'm not talking about the interface.

I am a very creative person, but there are many kinds of creativity. I've long since given up trying to be the game master in tabletop games given how painful it is for me to prepare and how I bring so much more to the table as a player. I'm the expressive sort, coming up with great ideas on the fly that make things more fun for everyone, drawing everyone's characters, that sort of thing. I'm not the constructive sort, so I have a hard time building worlds compared to inhabiting them. That might be why I had to stick a cameo from my own Trickster Rogue in the quest I designed.

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Field Journal: Pandaria's pastoral paradise

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, PvE, Opinion, Hands-On, Subscription, MMORPG, Field Journal

Never forget your roots.
This week in Massively's Field Journal, I'm turning my attention to the big one, the game that must not be named, World of Warcraft. Some of you might say that's what WoW Insider is for, but our sister site's staff is made up of hardcore players who have kept up with the times and are used to the game's ways, some perhaps to the exclusion of other MMOs. What I'm offering is a look at the introduction of the current expansion with fresh eyes, from someone who used to be that person but hasn't been for a long time.

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Field Journal: The true meaning of MMO holiday events

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Events (In-Game), Opinion, Star Trek Online, Guild Wars 2, Hands-On, Humor, RIFT, MMORPG, Field Journal

No, this doesn't belong on WoW Insider.
Field Journal is a bold and exciting new take on MMO journalism. Or the meandering ramblings of a chronic game-hopper. I haven't decided yet. Each week I'll be setting for myself a new "adventure" or "field trip" into a game to explore some aspect of it in detail. I'll be sharing my thoughts and experiences, especially on games without a dedicated column. Anything from the most obscure indie to the elephant in the room is up for consideration. There just has to be something in it we think is worth gawking at and talking about!

Given the timing, I wanted to kick things off with a look at seasonal events in MMOs. To make it special, I thought, why not tackle the events of a few games in one go? Oh how naive I was. Let me tell you, there's nothing like seeing the same flavor of holiday cheer over and over again in supposedly different worlds to strip away one's capacity for goodwill to all developers. Fortunately, there were a few bright spots.

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