The Secret World is not entirely grindy

It is still possible to play this game a lot. To binge it, even. Though in Secret World this feels much less about compulsion, gilt carrots or maliciously labyrinthine design. I'd compare it to Skyrim before I would Warcraft, in that the content feels like content.

One example I've been throwing around is of Sam Krieg, a bestselling New England author who's holed up in a lighthouse while zombies ravage the little island. I found this guy, my favorite character, after saying,

"Cool lighthouse. I wonder if anything's going on there."

Then braving the weird horrors in the fog, which take inspiration from Lovecraft, Poe, and pulpier American authors. Then being rewarded with a quest I'd describe as anti-grind.

All repetitive behavior as "destructive and unreasonable"? This guy is cool. He lambastes my sexy Illuminati superheroine, saying that as a writer he's got a damn good excuse to repeat himself: it makes him millions. But what's my excuse? What's the player's excuse?

The quest takes typical grindy mechanics, then adds little twists. For instance, we kill a set number of zombies by impaling rotting corpses (irresistible zombie bait, as we all know) at the edge of a bluff. The animations aren't perfect (especially clear in the more lightly funded Egypt and Transylvania expansions) but we get to watch zombies goofily launch themselves off cliffs. The game, sometimes by adding extra little flourishes of programming, sometimes by creating riddles which require Latin Vulgate dictionaries and thoughtful deduction, pokes fun at MMOs in general. 

The combat is made interesting by a mix-n-match system. It's one of the first times I've enjoyed being the mage sort of character.

The fun of designing your own weird combat is, tragically or wonderfully (I'm really not sure), mostly a creative fun. Some of the animations get ridiculous to the point of pure comic gold, as one swirling pistol attack which should probably involve a half-empty bottle of vodka. It's just not gripping. 

The cutscenes have their share of charming moments. I get the sense the writers had carte blanche to be the best possible kind of weird. 

Hitting the paywalls in TSW isn't fun, but I didn't until about 20 hours in. Their in-game store is super basic, and not very usable. Almost like the wacky quest writers also got to label their DLC so as to make it nigh-impossible to buy anything. 

Their store is also restrictive. You can't gift DLC (like, wtf? You guys don't like money?).

Like most MMOs, once the content runs dry, what's left appears to be grindy endgame for gears (destructive and unreasonable, much?). That made a sad panda, since in so many other parts of the MMO oeuvre they'd found innovative solutions. For most sane human beings, this is going to be an awesome treat of content (actual content!), on most logins. For anyone with a history of problematic use, I don't recommend playing alone. I'm conflicted myself since the questing phase was so delightful and easy to take-or-leave. It's worth seeing, but only if you can do it strictly with friends. 

That said, right now I'm staring off the edge of a gear precipice. I look, and wonder if I've finally learned not to jump. 


Humble Paleontology

Yeah, yeah. A few months later I crawl back here, to drop a few unceremonious words.

PAX was fun. One gentleman took this picture with his Google Glass.

neils at pax. with coffee, but probably not enough coffee.

Apparently there was also Much Video. That particularly unimpressed look is probably me telling him to, like, kindly quit with the ninjalike lifecapture.

Then I got to wear his specs. He activated this easter egg whereby I could turn 360, and everywhere around me were the developers for Glass. Here's one brusquely-grabbed shot to illustrate, courtesy google images.

The point was that I felt like I was right there, and all it took was a tiny screen next to one eye. If they ever release this, it's going to multiply everything we've been saying about games by 100x. Maybe that's exaggerating. It's also probably untrue, in that Google Glass will add altogether new elements to those conversations.

I also spoke at PAX, for the first time. Once with the delightful, brilliant Anna DiNoto, on how to keep play in balance with everything else in life. And then again, with James Portnow, about how games are art, and why that matters. I loved both, but have to admit that the art one felt a lot more powerful and impassioned (probably a fair comparison when the other is a finely tuned one on "balance"). There were also roughly 10 times as many people at the art talk (many there to catch James, before he rode off into the pixelated sunset). Still, on day three, I saw the line building up and said aloud,

"We're gonna need a bigger latte."

When the talks were said and done, it was good to see the friends I mostly only catch up with at things like PAX and GDC. They're good folk.

So, only one more thing to announce. A few weeks ago I wrapped up the first draft of a book I've been plugging away at. It mixes my collected games research from the last decade or so, with all the weird stories I have from growing up around games. I think it could make for a good context to help non-gamers get what we're doing, but more I wrote it for the miscreants I've played with all these years. One in particular, a guy who's been my friend for years, who we all call Squatch.

And maybe also myself. It feels good to have a chunk of words that I'm happier with than anything else I've done.

While it's good to have something to show for all that work, the finding-agents and selling-books phase has never been my favorite thing. But then again, I like what I've done. I think that should help. It's exciting.