First Impressions: zOMG!
- First Look at zOMG!
When I originally approached zOMG! I'd heard about it briefly at Dragon*Con this year, where the crowd really seemed to be into it. Having never experienced Gaia beyond someone linking me to their art there once before, this was pretty much new ground. What I expected was a free-to-play children-to-tween community with a fairly basic web-interface game. It wasn't quite what I wound up with...
- Making a character
You start off with a very cute little 2-d avatar, and are given the ability to customize it by playing games, surfing the site, participating on the message forums, installing the Gaia toolbar, etc. to gain Gaia Gold. Mind you, there are two types of currency at play in Gaia - the gold that you get by surfing around, playing games, etc. and the Gaia Cash, which is the RMT side of the house. You can pick up Gaia Cash not only online, but at major American retailers like Target, or your local 7-11. Gaia Cash allows players to buy special cash-only character customization options.
As I was going purely for the first-time and free option, I opted not to pick up November's Monthly Collectable (which apparently sold for a good chunk of Gaia Gold earlier) and instead amassed cash and items purely by surfing the site for a couple of weeks. As such, my avatar doesn't look too fancy in her one-step-up-from-noob clothes, but I've gotten much better at jigsaw puzzles.
- Now, on to the MMO part of the site!
It was time to log in and see what zOMG! is all about. After a pretty cool looking anime-inspired opening animation, we're brought to the server screen, where we're presented with some off the wall server names like "Flying Giftbox One" and "Garlic One." A nice part of zOMG! being tied to Gaia is that you have one character you can freely move from server to server without penalty.
Being a huge fan of Italian cooking, I opted for Garlic One, although I also logged time on Pink Flamingo and Shockroach. (Shockroach, by the way, really needs to be the name of a band.)
- Loading, loading, loading
During the first chunk of play time I logged, I must have seen the loading screen freeze or stall dozens of times. I finally gave up and came back a week or so later. Many of the servers I'd seen before were missing, but the service seemed a great deal more stable.
I would note at this point that it is a beta, and problems were definitely to be expected. However, most of what I experienced was entirely in terms of logging in on the Vista test machine. The XP test machine seemed to navigate through without issue. (Both hardwired to the same connection, with extremely similar moderate-to-high end system stats.)
- The subway is where you learn about zOMG!
As a starting player in zOMG! you begin your adventure in a subway train, careening towards destruction. Apparently something has gone horribly wrong; inanimate objects have gained sapience and are terrorizing the populace of Gaia. Your avatar "walks" around by virtue of having their legs blur while their torso remains absolutely stock-still. (This is apparently the same movement used in Gaia's flash-based towns as well, in case you are familiar.)
A nice side to this is that you are able to move via click-to-move, arrow keys, or WASD movement - your choice. You can also mix it up a bit, which comes in handy when the camera becomes non-responsive and you see your feet twiddling merrily just at the very top edge of your screen, trying to move to the next scene.
- An interesting mechanic
So when you're dealing with an established community that has spent time and cash to customize their avatar in any one of tens of thousands of ways, how do you let them keep that look and still have armor and weaponry? Give them rings!
This is one of the really excellent ideas involved in zOMG! from my point of view - the rings never show up on your character physically, so at no time does it disturb your cool (or in my case, weak) looking avatar by making you put on armor or gear to gain specific stats or buffs. This makes it extremely unlikely that you'll ever find another player with the exact same outfit you have on, assuming you've at least tweaked yourself from the basic clothing, anyway.
- One ring to tank them all, one ring to heal them...
There are offensive, defensive, and healing rings, allowing you to swap your rings in and out to fulfill different party needs at your whim. It does tend to stay with the more familiar trinity in regards to "class" mechanics otherwise.
Another nice thing about the ring system is that it allows players who have been around for a very long time to play with friends who are very new. Want to drop down to newbie level and run with your friend? Just switch to low-level rings and off you go.
- Our first round of Kill Ten Rats
The tried and true MMO model is alive and well in zOMG! Once you're given your rings, you're sent into the sewers to do your "civic duty" and take out... wait for it... sapient plungers with amorphous blobs of yellow liquid under them, aptly named "Peelungers." Indeed, puns, goofy names and even geek-culture references abound, as you'll see.
Still, doing our "duty" going after "peelungers" was one of those "ew!" moments.
- The first town
Once you've learned how to use your rings properly and wiped out enough peelungers (no pun intended) it's time to head into town. The denizens of the first town in zOMG! seem fairly friendly - this one even going so far as to yell to the rest of the town that I am, indeed, really cool.
There are all manner of characters for you to meet in the lands of zOMG! Many of them are characters who have fleshed out manga-histories on the main Gaia site for you to read up on if you like checking out game lore.
Alternately, if you're just the type who likes to pick up quests and totally ignore all of that, you can pretty easily do so. You will be missing out, however, as there is some fairly understated humour in there along with the more overt potty jokes.
You'll also notice the shadow in the mushroom-top of this house? When walking behind a building, your avatar shows up as a shadow on the front of the building as opposed to the camera turning so you can see the area behind the building; a very common situation in many free-to-play games. The shadow is a nice touch, however, helping you keep visual track of your location.
- Talking to an in-game shopkeeper
Wandering around the town in zOMG, you'll find many of the same vendors you see on the main Gaia site. When you want to buy something from them, it pulls up their store in your browser window and kicks zOMG! to the back.
Just be careful with this - I found if I spent too long browsing around the store, I got disconnected from the game server. Of course, it usually didn't take too long to log right back in and proceed from where I was. If this will improve once the game goes gold, or if it's an intended limitation of the client I can't say. I'd suggest getting your shopping on before you log in just to save yourself the hassle of messing with it.
Added funny: If you look closely at the bottom of the screen, you'll see I have a ring made of bacon, simply titled "Meat." Frankly, more games need bacon in them.
- Wandering towards the south
We find this lovely older lady, who is the mother of the captain of the guard. Of course, she loves all the guards like they were her own, so she sends you on a fed-ex style quest to take cookies to the other guards. At first, it seems pretty ho-hum, until...
- Hi, my name is NO
It would appear that she's very well known to the rest of the guards. This brings into play one of the fun parts of the questing system of zOMG - dialogue trees!
While they're not a huge favorite with everyone, I'm one of those folks who happens to like dialogue trees. I'm glad to note that none of them seem to really mess you up horribly, but I still played it fairly straight in regards to this quest arc. (You'll have to see what I mean by playing zOMG!; I'm not spoiling it further.)
- Explore and meet NPC noobs!
That's right, someone thought it would be fun to add in an NPC that begs you for your hard-clicked Gaia gold.
They need to give you an option to spork her into hundreds of tiny bits. No, it's not very nice, but gold beggars - even NPC ones - aren't funny to me.
You'll have to decide if an overly-cutesy gold beggar is funny for you or not.
- See, this is funny
Apparently one of the things you can buy from an in-town vendor is a great big orange chibi-headcrab. Sadly, it does not make you look like a headcrab zombie, as that would have been extremely funny to me.
I would have happily run around as a chibi headcrab zombie, accepting my full life consequences.
- Time to head out and learn about how to buff my rings
As you gain levels, you gain methods to buff your rings up with more power. This involves you finding something called a Null Chamber, which you're told is just outside of town.
- Is that a chamber?
Just outside of town, you find a glowy crystal that teleports you to the null chamber. Not only do you have the chance to adjust your rings there, but additionally it seems to be a hub of travel. First, a quick detour....
- One of the strengths of zOMG!
This is one portion of zOMG that I very much found to be useful; the ability to full-size the screen to whatever monitor you are using, and then drag elements of it here there and everywhere to create a somewhat customizable UI. It's not quite the same as being able to mod it, but if you're used to windows in a certain place and find the regular setup to be too small or too annoying, you can size everything up or down, and adjust things accordingly.
I definitely have to give them love for this part, as playing in a very small fixed window is frustrating at 1900x1200.
- That's better!
Now that the screen is all sized up prettier (I'd note it suffers from pixellation at 1600x1080 and higher) we can check out some of the elements of the UI. In this case on the right top window, we have the world map. The local map is the same as the world map, only showing the local area - and only whatever area you've uncovered at the time. The rest is black.
Now as to the Null Chamber, each of the crystal shards will "attune to you" when you go to new areas and touch them, allowing you a teleportation-style mechanic. Additionally, you can only change your rings out in one of the Null Chambers, so it's a good place to meet up with other players if you're looking for a party in a particular zone.
- A feeling of deja vu
Yes, you can indeed see if you've been there and done that without having to run back and check with the NPC. This is a handy feature, enabling you to check your quest progress against what others may have when you group up.
- And the rest of the UI
On the final tab, you see the active quests, such as the "Denial of Service" quest I was on to hunt down the particularly naughty OMGWTF. (See, told you it got funnier.)
Most of the rest of the UI is fairly familiar from most other MMOs; action bars, a health/energy type monitor, and menus allowing you other basic options. Overall, zOMG! is a pretty fun game, but I'm going to stop one step shy of calling it a tween game...
- A note to parents
This is why I can't call this a tween game. A good part of enjoying the Gaia community is being active on the Gaia forums. This is where problems crop up for tweens.
Once there, you're going to see topics such as the ones in this screencap that you may well not want your tween being party to. Gaia's Terms of Service involves a fairly loose language allowance, and states that the service is not for those under 13 years of age. Additionally, even their "very strict" profanity filter does not filter many iterations of the f-bomb as well as other colorful and less-savory language including racial epithets.
I will note that I did not see this level of shenanigans in game; most everyone there seemed focused on playing and having a good time - even if there was the typical free-to-play MMO crude spammy silliness going on.
Long story short, if you are going to allow your teens into zOMG!, be responsible and aware, and talk to them about what's cool with you and what isn't. (Of course, if you're here and reading this, you're a gamer parent and I likely don't need to tell you this.)
Overall: A silly romp through a pun-infested world where everything wants to kill you, including mom's cooking. Definitely not a good game for kids due to the poor profanity filtering, although late-teenagers will probably enjoy the game's customization, silliness, and yes, community.
Take me back to the First Impressions: zOMG! post!