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Virtual Worlds

Free for All: My top four MMOs for relaxation

Trailers, Video, Lord of the Rings Online, Culture, Game Mechanics, Wurm Online, Opinion, Vanguard, Free-to-Play, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Free Realms, Free for All, Livestream, Sandbox, Housing, Player-Generated Content

Wurm Online screenshot
Say you come home from a long day's work, dreaming about the vacation that you've yet to take and how nice it would be to turn off your brain for a while, to kick back and watch the wide world walk by. Unfortunately, vacations cost a pile of money. You have to pay someone to watch the dogs and water your plants and work is a real pain about letting you out of the shackles even for a week.

The good news is that much of the benefit of vacation comes from the mental release. Sure, nothing beats the real, true feeling of pressing your toes into warm water and sand, but it can be fun and relaxing to visit virtual worlds, to take in virtual sights and sounds. MMOs are perfect for blowing off some steam, for taking a moment to realize just how nice it is to have access to such landscapes from the comfort of your desk.

Here are some of my favorite virtual worlds that bring on that feeling of relaxation.

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Free for All: Recapping Mabinogi Iria Saga chapters four to six

Fantasy, Video, Events (In-Game), Game Mechanics, Lore, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Humor, Mabinogi, Events (Massively's Coverage), Free for All, Livestream, Sandbox

Mabinogi screenshot
It's time for another recap of the last three Mabinogi Saga Iria chapters. If you'd like a full recap of what exactly the Saga Iria is, check in on our previous coverage, but the short verions is that it's a grand, sweeping saga that is spread out over 12 episodes. In it, the player is cast into not only the role of the hero but the role of the villain. It's a complicated story, so you could also get caught up via the livestreams embedded past the cut (and the previous ones as well).

Of course, the very best way to enjoy the chapters is to play through them yourself. But Mabinogi Community Manager Sabina won't be joining you as she joined me in the livestreams, will she? So, watch on for her take on the game! I found some familiar challenges in these chapters, challenges that pushed my abilities as a player. I wouldn't have been able to survive these chapters without the help of the community and the advice of fantastic players. Thanks to them, I have learned things about the game and its systems that I would have never experienced on my time budget. So let's get to the recap! (Just be very aware: This article contains many spoilers!)

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Smaller virtual bodies affect how people see the world

Culture, News Items, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous

Inevitably worth addressing when discussing child-like bodies.
How much does the size of our virtual bodies influence our behaviors? It doesn't seem like it'd have much of an effect, but according to a recent study it can cause a greater impact than you might speculate. Researchers placed several subjects in special motion-capture suits, then presented the subjects with a body that had adult proportions or childish proportions, even though both bodies were the same size.

The result was that participants in the childlike bodies were more likely to identify as children rather than as adults, exploring more child-like environments and behaving less like adults. It's worth keeping in mind that these behaviors happened within motion-capture suits designed to simulate actual movement in virtual bodies, so how much of this would transfer to MMOs is questionable. But it's an interesting set of variables to consider, especially in terms of how much we identify with our avatars in the game.

[Thanks to David for the tip!]

Cubeworld launches into paid alpha

Betas, Launches, New Titles, PvP, News Items, PvE, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, MMORPG

Cube World, developed by Picorama, is billed as a voxel-based, randomly generated, action-adventure RPG with borderless worlds and infinite character progression. It's not exactly an MMO, but it's pretty darn close: It also has a crafting system, PvP combat, and cooperative play via LAN or the web. If that sounds like something you would enjoy, you're in luck: Cube World's paid alpha phase has officially begun.

Well, sort of. In order to get into the alpha, you'll need to pay for the game via the Picorama shop. In order to use the shop, you'll need to register. And thanks to what the developer claims are regular denial-of-service attacks, registrations are currently disabled. Foiled again.

In the meantime, you can get an extremely limited taste of the game's looks by checking out its mini demo.

Free for All: So about that PlayStation Home

Betas, Screenshots, Trailers, Business Models, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Consoles, Casual, Virtual Worlds, First Impressions, Free for All, Housing, Buy-to-Play

PlayStation Home screenshot
My birthday is this week, so I thought it was time to grab a PlayStation 3 bundle, something I have been wanting for a while. Not only have the prices dropped for the consoles, but with the next generation coming out soon, I knew that many of the games that I wanted to get for it would be even cheaper. On top of that, the PS3 is the best console for MMOs. It currently hosts several, one of them being PlayStation Home.

My curiosity for Home has been fired up since I heard about it, but I've never before looked into it and have rarely heard anything more from it other than the occasional news story. Most of the time when I ask a PlayStation user about the virtual world, he'll just sort of shrug. It was about time I saw it for myself!

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Rise and Shiny: DragonRealms

Fantasy, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, Interviews, Previews, Opinion, Virtual Worlds, Community Q&A, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Miscellaneous, Subscription

DragonRealms website artwork
As a part of MUD May, I just had to play at least one MUD for Rise and Shiny. I have a handful of favorite MUDs, like GemStone IV, BatMUD, and Achaea, but I have never really given DragonRealms a chance. Until now. I've poked into it here and there, but every time I found myself on the Simutronics website, I always logged into GemStone IV. I heard that DragonRealms was a lot different, more hardcore, and filled with PvP, and after spending an initial week with the game and the killer community, I can say that it is different, but mainly in a few outstanding ways. Of course I might find much more that sets the game apart if I played it for several years like some of the people I met in game, but for now I'll settle with telling you what I've learned so far.

The usual embedded video in this article serves two purposes. First, it's an interview piece I did with Eric Latham, Producer at Simutronics. Next, it's a glance at DragonRealms, from character creation to a bit of gameplay. It's not as in-depth as my other videos, but it keeps in the greater theme of MUD May.

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Rise and Shiny revisit: Mabinogi remains magical

Fantasy, Screenshots, Video, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Mabinogi, Rise and Shiny, Livestream, Sandbox

Mabinogi screenshot
I try to take deeper looks at certain titles at least once a year. These are special games that prove to me that MMORPGs are still the best gaming you can participate in, pixel for pixel. Mabinogi is one of those titles. It's also one of those titles that almost makes me want to quit writing about games. Ironically, the more you write about games, the less time you have to play specific titles, games that could easily suck away hours of your life every day. These are virtual worlds with open character development and grand, sweeping storylines. If I had the time, I'd probably spend most of it in Mabinogi.

During this week's revisit, I knew I had to accomplish several things. First, I needed to clean up my quest list. Mabinogi is wonderful in the way it offers a player tons and tons of content and storylines, but they can be visited in a non-linear fashion that leads to confusion. Second, I wanted to revel in the glory that was the newly free extended inventory. Third, I wanted to check out the new systems and tweaks that have come along since I last dived into the game.

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Free for All: My favorite female armor sets

Fantasy, Screenshots, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Culture, Lore, Ryzom, Opinion, Vanguard, Guild Wars 2, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Casual, Roleplaying, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, Buy-to-Play

Brienne picture
Of all of the crazy characters from HBO's Game of Thrones, Brienne is easily my favorite. Why is she my favorite? It's not because she's just heroic or brave or any of the things that people often attribute to her; it's because she's a survivor. Much of that survival comes from her armor and the fact that she knows well enough to be able to protect herself! The actress Gwendoline Christie has talked about how uncomfortable the armor is to wear. I've heard the producers say that the metal skin is supposed to look sort of mismatched, and I love that. It only makes it stronger.

I often wish MMOs represented armor in better ways, especially for female characters. Some MMOs do a better job than others, and some MMOs do a decent job some of the time. Here are some of my picks for my favorite armor sets for female humans, orcs, goblins or... well, you get the point.

(Please don't post Game of Thrones spoilers in the comments section.)

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MMO Blender: Game of Thrones, MUDs, and the perfect quest text

Screenshots, Culture, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Miscellaneous, MMO Blender

Game of Thrones Ascent screenshot
Nothing seems to suck me into a game more than a good story. The brilliant thing is that the story doesn't have to be complicated or intense as long as it's original and easy to follow. I want characters to meet, locations to discover. I need to immerse myself into a story more than I need to raise a level or obtain powerful loot. In this edition of MMO Blender, I wanted to use three main games as prime examples of systems that, when combined together in some form, would deliver the best story-driven experience I can imagine.

There are several factors to consider: story, movement, character, and interaction. I want to use War of Dragons as an example of movement in a mostly text environment, Gemstone IV for character and interaction, and Game of Thrones Ascent for story. Hopefully, when I am done, I'll have convinced someone to give me a few million dollars to create this dream MMO.

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Free for All: My five favorite MMOs for exploration

Screenshots, Culture, Ryzom, Wurm Online, Opinion, Second Life, Vanguard, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Vanguard screenshot
There's nothing more important to me than the ability to freely explore MMOs. Heck, exploration is the reason I got into MMOs. I remember grabbing that box of Ultima Online (man, I wish I still had that box!) from a shelf at the local game store and looking in wonder at just how vast this virtual world seemed to be. I'm still the same way, although after years of doing this, I am a bit more cynical about games. I've heard so many promises that never came true, but I know that even the worst of titles offers the chance to explore a brand-new world.

There are a lot of exploration mechanics out there. Free Realms has an adventurer "job," The Secret World needs players to explore to solve mysteries, Guild Wars 2 offers experience based on discovering new areas, EverQuest II entices people to explore by offering collectible items embedded in the ground, and there are so many MMOs that allow players to gain experience just by approaching areas they haven't before.

But I have my favorites. These are games that just make me feel like an explorer.

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MMObility: Remanum's trade wars stump this chump

Historical, Real-Life, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, Previews, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Humor, Livestream, MMObility

Remanum screenshot
It's been a while since I visited Remanum, an interesting trade-based MMO brought to us by Travian Games, the same studio that brought us Travian and other interesting titles. I was initially turned on to the game's non-combat options simply because combat is used so much that many of the current combat systems are outdated or just plain boring. Non-combat, or optional systems for play like trade and exploration, are the hope for gamers like yours truly who cannot stand to play a game as though they're clocking in to work.

The only problem with Remanum? I suck at, well, trading. I know that I can grasp the principles of "buy low, sell high" and other market staples, but I simply can't grasp the finer nuances of buying and selling. I have a brother who seems to have a natural way with numbers, but I've always been more of an artist. Numbers and me just sort of stare at each other from across the table.

So why do I like Remanum so much?

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MMObility: The Chromebook 'All In One' project - Ten standard MMOs

Betas, Fantasy, Real-Life, Sci-Fi, Game Mechanics, Previews, PvP, PvE, Opinion, War, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Virtual Worlds, MMORTS, Kids, Family, Miscellaneous, MMObility, Sandbox

War of Dragons artwork
It's time for another installment of my month-long look at the Samsung Chromebook, the newest in the line of all-in-one devices brought to us by Google. Everything has worked pretty well so far, but the light notebook does have its issues. I'm so used to using my Google Nexus 7 tablet for reading emails and now reading articles and magazines that I am having a hard time without the pinch-to-zoom. I love the instant zooming; it's much easier when I am reading or surfing the net. (Wait, do we still say "surfing the net"?) In fact, the main issue with the Samsung Chromebook is its size. I have to hit ctrl-+ to zoom in pages often.

Other than the smaller fonts, few other issues have cropped up -- I've found gaming has been really fun on this little guy. I've noticed that everyone who reads of gaming on the device is sort of perplexed. Why would I want to game on such a non-gaming machine? It's simple, really. As the title says, this is another attempt of mine to find the perfect device for doing all that I do using only the browser: writing, gaming, gaming, writing, watching videos, writing, and playing games.

This week, I have 10 "standard" MMOs for you. These are games that act more like a common, client-based MMOs than the MMORTS titles I covered last week, but with some exceptions. The desktop browser can handle amazing, 3-D graphics, but a Chromebook does not allow downloads like Unity or Java. Keep that in mind.

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Glitch art book shatters fundraising goal

Screenshots, Culture, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Crowdfunding

Glitch art book shatters fundraising campaign goal
Glitch may be down, but it's not out. The whimsical, non-violent MMO closed its doors on December 9th of last year, but fans of the game still hold its memory close to their hearts.

That's exactly why former art director Brent Kobayashi (AKA Meowza, AKA Kukubee) decided to gather together everything that he and the Glitch art team designed over the years, including never-before-seen concept art and some worlds that didn't make it to the game. Through Indiegogo (one of the many alternatives to Kickstarter), Brent set up a project to raise $17,000 for production of a hardcover book showcasing the art of Glitch. But as happens with the internet, the initial goal was shattered with the current money raised at just over $105,000 with 34 hours left to go on the campaign.

The good news is that this book will certainly become a reality. The better news is that you still have time to grab one for yourself!

[Thanks to Sounder for the tip!]

Free for All: Adventure Time's nostalgia is MMO drama done right

Fantasy, Real-Life, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Browser, Virtual Worlds, Free for All, Family, Miscellaneous

Glitch screenshot
I've tried to explain my love for a bit of melodrama several times over the years. It's sort of a hard thing to explain. I like a good bit of "sad" in my MMOs when I can get it, and I can say that I enjoy some measure of drama as well. Sure, many MMOs have a dramatic storyline quest here or there, but more often than not, the game forgets to be a world and rushes us off into yet another combat assignment.

The fact is that it's very hard to find the balance. We all want a good story, but many of us just want to get to the good stuff. The loot. The treasure. The virtual glory. I've had a hard time explaining my want for a game that makes me feel real emotion and explaining why I enjoy those feelings. Well, the PBS Idea Channel on YouTube did it much better than I ever could, and it used the popular Cartoon Network series Adventure Time as the perfect example of why nostalgia is a powerful and universal thing.

When it comes to video games, I believe nostalgia is even more powerful than loot.

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Massively Interview: Dr. Lawrence Sanders on MMO loyalty

Sci-Fi, Aion, EVE Online, Lineage, Lineage 2, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, The Secret World, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Interviews (Massively's), World of Tanks, TERA, Miscellaneous, PlanetSide 2, Age of Wushu

Beyond amazing character design, compelling narratives, and the presence of dragons, there is one thing that all MMOs depend upon for success: player loyalty. Without returning subscribers, a loving community, or folks dropping a few dimes in the cash shop now and again, MMOs simply wouldn't be a feasible way for a games studio to do business. Smart development teams have player retention departments tasked specifically with tracking and analyzing the rise and fall of player allegiances and finding ways to leverage loyalty is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the creation process.

Even the non-gaming world is getting in on the fray. Back in November, researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Management published a study tracing the roots of player loyalties in a variety of MMO environments. The study outlined the mentalities of MMO gamers and the things that successfully encouraged them to keep coming back for more looting, more grinding, and more /hugging. Most importantly, the study declared that an MMO that increases loyalty by just 5% can increase profits by 25-95%.

We sat down with Dr. Lawrence Sanders, co-author of the study, to dive a little deeper into the researchers' methods, results, and plans for future MMO investigation.

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