Last night I bought my son a planet.

How cool is that? I bought a planet for my son.

I shopped online, got a really good deal on a planet, brand new, nice solar system, fresh unexplored territory for he and his friends to play around on.

Even better, in this brave new world, I am God.

My son loves Minecraft, as do many of his classmates. If anyone knows this it’s you folks, single player can be cool but sharing what you’ve done with your friends online? Force multiplier of sheer awesome.

Some of the kids don’t play the same version of Minecraft the Cub does. Some are on the tablet version (PE) and others are on a trial version instead of the full thing. Still, four or five of them are on the PC and could join in on multiplayer if their parents permitted.

Before unleashing my infinite power and creating a new planet, I had to consider what my goal as a parent was in this.

What I came up with was;

1) A single place for them to play together.
2) Easy to setup/access for the computer illiterate parents.
3) A gated community for our children – no strangers AT ALL.
4) Controlled environment – game rules set to limit abusive behaviors.
5) Security – hardware and software protected from external hacking.
6) Persistent and independant – the game world exists 24/7, independant of my computer hardware or internet connection.

I started messing around with creating my own server world on my computer, biggest benefit being it’s free (assuming you own a licensed account for Minecraft) but I quickly ran afoul of points 5 and 6. If I’m running it on my computer, it’s always got to be on in the background. Also, ports need to be opened, forwarded, protected, etc. IP needs to be permanent instead of dynamic, all that stuff.

I set it up anyway, checked and it worked GREAT for the Cub and I to play within our home network. If it was just going to be a server for us to do multiplayer on it was perfect. To stabilize and secure it so others could log in? A bit more than I wanted to get into.

So instead of creating a world, let’s sub-contract. I went looking to buy a planet.

I checked a few server providers, and found MCProHosting. For about $2.50 a month, I could buy my own planet. Well, rent. But that included mineral rights, so it’s all good. We’ll strip mine that sucker and never look back.

Real estate has never been cheaper!

So yeah, I did that. I bought a planet for mah boy for his birthday. What did you get YOUR kid for their birthday, a PONY? Ah hah hah hah hah haaaaa. Losers.

What I found after dropping some dough on a discworld was that even for someone like me that has no clue whatsoever about setting up a Minecraft server, they make it pretty easy to take over possession of a pristine planet.

I looked at the options, and chose the $6 a month plan. The $2.50 limited you in three ways; overall Mb, only 5 simultaneous players online and vanilla Minecraft 1.7.4, no mods allowed.

For $6 a month, I get to have up to 18 players on the world at a time, more than enough to cover the Cub and his friends. Also, while it’s set up as a vanilla Minecraft 1.7.4 world right now, I have the option of either having MCPro install some mod packs for me, or I can select and upload my own .jar files and plugins.

Best of all, the world is a true gated community. You can set up your whitelist so only the player names you specify are allowed to log in. The Cub can give his classmates the IP address, but unless they give us their player names and we include them on the whitelist, they cannot come in.

This isn’t like a ventrilo or mumble server on your local realm, where if you give out the info for pugs in a raid you’ve got to change the password or wonder who the heck these strange people are. Set it up with a whitelist and everyone is forbidden access unless specifically invited in.

I like that.

Access is denied! Papers please? Papers? You got badges? You DO need to show me your stinking badges!

The last thing I did was go through the world configuration settings with the Cub before he went to bed. I ran down every option to ask him how he wanted it set up.

He got to choose that it be set to creative mode, that flying be allowed, that monsters CAN spawn but it’s set to easy difficulty so there will be SOMETHING to fight but not too hard.

And, at my very strenuous suggestion, there is NO PVP allowed. in the immortal words of Barney Fife, NIP IT IN THE BUD.

We both logged into the world before and after our changes. It was good, spawn point next to a lake, I got blown up by a creeper or two before we changed it to creative and the Cub laughed at me, but all in all a lovely little world.

Now comes the God part.

Before we changed the settings and made it a creative world, we were poking around on survival going “gee, it worked!”

I saw that while I was logged into the server admin panel, I could click on active players. I selected my son, and it gave me a range of options, including giving him any items in any quantity I wanted. I could also teleport him around or summon things to him. Basically, I had unlimited power over him without the itty bitty living space normally associated with it.

I tested it, selected a standard bed, quantity one, and ‘gifted’ it to him. Poof, it was in his inventory.

Suddenly, I can understand why some of these videos the Cub watches have interesting sub plots of the server admin whispering players on open multiplayer worlds and messing with them.

I’m very glad I am the admin. Not that my son would necessarily abuse the power when playing with his friends… but then again, I certainly would have when I was his age.

Are you kidding me?

If I could have summoned an Ender Dragon and dropped it on my friends’ heads when we were ten, you can damn well bet I would have.

The only difference between then and now is if I were to do it now, I’d FRAPS the results and post it to YouTube.

Cassie made very nice printed out cards with the server IP address on it, our phone number and email address, and put a note on them asking parents to call or email us for details so I can explain what it is we’re doing, and what the situation would be for their children while playing.

I hope we get some responses. It would be very cool for even one or two of the kids to begin playing with the Cub after school.

Especially since I’d be able to see what kinds of things they create when they put their minds together.

I am almost as excited as he is to see how it all turns out!

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Hailsword the Derpknight

Ever have one of those days where everything seems to be going too well, and you just know something is wrong somewhere but you don’t know what?

Before Mists of Pandaria launched, my son’s favorite character was his Death Knight, Hailsword. His favorite spec to play was Unholy, because permapet. He loves him his pet ghoul.

He just didn’t stay with it.

My son loved the look and feel of the zones in Northrend. That was where he felt at home. He liked the frozen cold and forbidding saronite walls of Icecrown, surrounded by undead and delighting in the opportunity they gave him to Control them and use them as his minions.

He did fall in love with the look of the giant Sha of Pandaria. He liked that there was an achievement for finding them all and killing them, he liked the mystery of who was the unknown Sha and where could it be hiding, he liked all the lore behind it.

He just didn’t like PLAYING it.

Basically, playing in Mists sounded great in theory, and looked cool, but in practise kinda sucked. Too many tough mobs traveling in packs to level quickly unless you were a tank.

So I set him up with a Blood tanking offspec to take on those mobs and not end up half dead every fight. Mostly for when he reached the last two zones.

I can’t remember how far past level 90 Alex continued playing Hailsword. I think he played enough to attain Exalted with the Cloud Serpents and raise his cloud serpent from a baby to an adult, but not much further than that.

Once he realized it would be months, if EVER that he would be able to join a group that could defeat the Sha in the Terrace of Endless Spring for the achievement, he lost his enthusiasm. He was excited until he realised that he had to be in a committed raid team to ‘catch ‘em all’. Not going to happen.

Time passes, though, and while he loves his Portal and Minecraft, he still misses his Death Knight and the golden age of Burning Crusade and Cataclysm.

Most especially he misses the more melee-friendly raids of LFR Dragon Soul, where melee didn’t have to master a doctorate in avoidance and dancing to survive five seconds without wiping a raid.

I decided, you know he really misses his Death Knight, so why not just spend my time playing Hailsword a little, try and get him some better gear? Get him set up so he could go into LFR alongside my Warlock main, and maybe we could get him having fun on it again.

Queue the bear playing a melee Death Knight, a class I know nothing about. I have one at level 85, and he’s very skilled at pet battling. Wears a pith helmet full time. Stylish!

I approached this project with all the skill and wisdom I show for all new projects.

I loaded it up, glanced at the buttons and figured it looked okay, figured yeah a lesser mortal might research it first, but screw it, how bad could it be? Faceroll Death Knight, toss some timeless gear on him and go kill some shit.

Granted some time far in the past I’d set him up as an Unholy Blood crossbreed, but I’m sure it’s all fine. He’s in Unholy spec, button bars are full, go for broke. It’s not rocket science, right?

I crafted a 553 belt and pants, made sure he had a decent weapon (a 510 weapon from some ancient ToT LFR) and we’re good to go.

I took Hailsword to Ordos and the Celestials. Got a season 15 neckpiece. Score! Gear getting better already.

Oh, maybe I should change my loot spec from Blood to Unholy. When did that happen? Wierd.

Then I decided to queue for LFR. Reforged, gemmed and enchanted per Ask Mr Robot so we MUST be good to raid, RIGHT?

RIGHT?!?

The first boss I get in LFR is the Sha fight, boss 4. Okay, big hit box, not too bad.

We won, and I was still alive at the end thanks to Death Strike being on my bar, man that thing does lots of self-healing. How OP is that? I get to do DPS AND heal myself.

Geez, unholy is kind of a pain the butt though, amiright? I’m always having to refresh my diseases and I’m spending FOR-EVER waiting for runes to refresh, standing around twiddling my furry thumbs. What a drag.

I queue again and get the first boss this time, all the trash packs and Immerseus.

WTF is it with tanks not keeping aggro on packs of bubbles on the trash? A few Blood Boils and here comes a black bubble or two to munch on me. Well, at least it’s not on a healer, so I’m providing raid utility. I’m helping!

Get the boss down, not bad, working my butt off I pull 85k DPS, but still, lots of downtime waiting for runes to regenerate, and I hate not having a button to click.

After all that, I just don’t have it in me to go on. 85k, working hard, and all the melee chasing to do in the Fallen Protectors? I don’t have the energy for that shit. Blech.

It occured to me as I left the LFR raid, maybe I should visit Icy Veins, see what they recommend for Glyphs and Talents, make sure I’ve got the right stuff. I haven’t looked at any of that stuff except to make sure I had some, maybe there’s something better.

Hmm, talents selected looked pretty good, might be a good idea to put some of them on my bar so i actually use them.

Glyphs, wow my glyphs were messed up. I had that leveling glyph for refreshing Death Grip, didn’t have Festering Blood, I DID have the no taunt Glyph for Army of the Dead though, so pro all the way.

Then I moved on to the page at Icy Veins that discusses optimizing DPS rotations for Unholy. maybe I could learn something there. When should I be Blood Boiling? Before or after Death Strike?

Hmm, okay, so… Death Strike doesn’t seem to be on here. What is this they have here instead? Festering Strike? What’s that?

Festering Strike. So, that’s supposed to be on my bar, then? Oh, it’s an attack that automatically extends the duration of diseases so I’m not always blowing runes on other shit.

Gee. That might help.

Oh, and I wonder which presence I’m supposed to be in? What presence am I in now, I guess I should have checked that earlier.

Oh, I’m in Blood presence, is that good?

Oh.

Oh, so Blood is for threat gen and health, for a DPS Blood would be bad.

So, I’m guessing that would be bad to have on for the entire duration of LFR boss fights and add phases?

Unholy presence is the one for Unholy spec? I never would have guessed.

At least my transmog is looking good. If I’m going to derp, do it in style!

I guess it could be worse.

I suppose I could have gone into LFR naked, wearing only a cock ring and a smile.

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The toughest challenge facing MMO developers is how to create content faster than players can consume and become bored by it.

Traditionally, core MMO content is a story you play through, presented in the form of a chain of quests. Each quest is a link in the chain giving you a small part of the story, then sending you on to the next link. If the story events change location, the next quest will direct you where to go, or might intend for you to search for clues or items to guide you in exploring the area on your own, and in the process revealing more quest chain beginnings. All of it intended to help you continue the story.

It’s an interactive novel that unfolds at your own pace. A great idea that I know I’ve loved playing.

The problem is I can blow through a great book faster than most folks can write one.

MMO developers are a canny bunch, they knew that going in. The earliest content included built-in molasses to slow us down so we couldn’t consume content faster than it came out.

Those lovely grind quests and slow foot travel while leveling, followed by reputation grinding, drop requirements to craft resist gear to equip your team before taking on tougher raid challenges, attunements and keys, and on and on.

It worked, but it couldn’t work forever, especially with a subscription model and more competition with newer and shinier toys.

We will never stop wanting more new content, as soon as it comes out we devour it and immediately hunger for more.

But that’s with the traditional story-based content model.

Our MMO play experience in the past has been to travel through zones and continents as the quests direct us, and in the process we reveal more of the story step-by-step.

The drawback to this system is, once you complete the last quest in the last chain, you’re done. The quests are either done or not, there is no partial completion or partial reward.

I think the solution is going to require changing what we consider as MMO ‘content’.

Now before we get too far into what tose changes might be, let me say I’ve always felt there was one big ‘gotcha’ to the quest chain story progression system; outleveling quests.

I don’t know about you, but one of the things about story questlines that has caused me problems in the past is when I leave a quest chain before that ‘chapter’ of the story gets resolved.

Usually it happens because my character had leveled past the point where the quests were providing experience or rewards. “I want to play with my friends in end game”, I think, “I’ll come back and finish that later to see what part of the story I missed.”

Whatever the reason for it, when you abandon a quest chain in the middle, you never resolve that part of the story. You don’t know what happened, and that can leave you confused later in the game when you begin quest chains designed for players of a higher level.

You start taking part in a quest chain several chapters deeper into the story and you’ve just been dropped down in the middle of stuff. You don’t know who the players are or what the big reveal is that went down before. You don’t have a frame of reference for how important any of the smaller nuances of the story may be to the big picture.

For those who played World of Warcraft during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, imagine having abandoned the quest chain in the middle, right before you would have reached the Wrathgate. Imagine having missed all of that story and cutscene, and then try to figure out what is happening later on strolling into Icecrown.

Can you do it? Sure. Would it cause the story to feel disjointed, even broken? I can only imagine.

I think, personally, that this is one of the reasons some of the big story elements are revealed in out-of-game books sometimes, especially the lead ups to expansions. And sure, it encourages players to buy the books. But this way a player might not know what quests are or are not critical to following the story, but they know that the book holds a big chunk of ‘what you need to know before Warlords of Draenor explodes on the scene.”

The traditional quest chains to deliver story aren’t entirely going away any time soon, but we’re mostly past gating content through agonizing grinds. Players are sick of it, and it doesn’t score anyone any brownie points.

To gate content, developers need to either build in obstacles like grinds to hinder our advance, OR provide us with so many options we always have something somewhere that feels worthwhile to do.

Queue the music as we see the effects of the current Timeless Isle rollout, and ponder the words of Blizzard that the Timeless Isles ‘spontaneous event’ system will be integrated throughout ALL of Draenor in the new expansion, and oh yeah, hello Garrisons.

We are told Garrisons are going to play a large role in Warlords of Draenor. If you look at the system they have proposed, you can see that it has leveling buildings, chasing drops, hunting for rares, running content for building patterns and managing teams of mionions all built into it’s structure.

Think about it. This is content that has no specific quest chain story associated with it; it is instead your own story of your continued expansion and entrenchment in the hostile terrain of Draenor.

Garrisons takes away the rails of guided quest chains and replaces them with an RTS resource management and base building mechanic. Your advancement and progression in that mechanic is gated by how many things you can do that will all result in an improved Garrison, or leveled up or more powerful minions.

And let’s talk about minions for a moment.

They will have levels, and you can assign them gear drops. Have you played Diablo III? You can give your buddies gear in that game as well to make them more powerful.

Have you played mobile games such as Marvel Puzzle Quest or Heroes of Dragon Age? Those games also feature a team you have to select, train, level and manage. That is the entire heart of the gameplay, seeking out new, more powerful members of your team, training them, leveling them and assigning them to tasks. They do the work while you plan your strategy and wait for the result.

World of Warcraft is dropping the gameplay of team management games like Heroes of Dragon Age directly into Warlords of Draenor as just one aspect to the expansion. Thank the devs that there will be no microtransactions to make me want to kill them.

The result? The more engaging that aspect of the game is, the less we will miss story-driven quest chains.

Now consider the ramifications of Timeless Isles style spontaneous events spread across an entire continent.

Right now, Mists of Pandaria has many rare creatures to seek out and kill for achievements and a chance at various cool drops. My personal favorite is the Ai-Li Skymirror.

How much more challenging will it be when it’s not just a rare creature we have a chance to stumble across for a quick kill and a chance at loot, but an entire event such as the pirate ship spawning, or the adds that come to life that you can begin to kill to have a boss spawn.

And how much more will it draw us into grinding, without grinding, when all of those events have their own loot tables and chances for rare pets, rare minions, rare Garrison building patterns or even epic loot.

Grinding, without grinding. That is when you’re doing something that should be tedious or time consuming, but you don’t mind because you’re engaged in the thrill of the hunt.

The Timeless Isles has succeeded to a point. It brought us all sorts of things to do, along with repeatable daily quest chains, loot from reputation grinds and token drops at vendors, rares with loot tables, TONS of goodies and events and things to do.

It’s occupied folks for months now, and let’s be honest. It’s a small island. It’s a flea speck in the vast sea.

Now take that experience and spread it out over an entire continent.

I intentionally avoided using the word ‘sandbox’ to describe what we’re going to get. So long as there is a guided quest experience and leveling, the game will not be a true sandbox to do whatever you want in.

But they are dropping entire new types of gameplay in, massive expansions on their Farm and Timeless Isles and Pet Battles systems.

I think if we look at the whole, we can see where Blizzard is going with the MMO. If we take speedbumps like grinds and reputation gates away, we have to add something else to slow the rate we devour content.

It seems to me that instead of throwing rocks in our path, they’re adding more games within the game to distract us, to lead us away from story advancement and give us other things to chase to occupy our time.

I am fascinated to see how much of the game continues to have strong story-driven questlines in it.

I am imagining an expansion where the same quality and quantity of story-line quests from the original Mists of Pandaria expansion are released with the addition of all of this other non-quest content to do right from the get-go.

I’m imagining it, and a huge smile is spread over my face.

You give me a team of minions to manage, I might not even notice we don’t get new quests in a content patch. Sorry, too busy picking my team to raid Onyxia, I’ll go quest later.

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My son beat Portal 1 again… in about 3 hours. Then he turned to me and said, “maybe it’s time we get Portal 2.”

So we did that thing. We bought Portal 2 and set him up with it, and he played it for a while, but he’s got this thing where he plays something, then he watches vids, then back to playing. Since the vids he watches are Minecraft, when he swings to the next game playing cycle, the wind blows due Minecraft.

I seized the day. Or night. Definitely the night, but mostly the opportunity.

He’s not playing Portal 2 at the moment, he’s making a working Space Invaders game in Minecraft with fire charges to shoot down (set on fire) the aliens, so surely he wouldn’t begrudge me a chance to try it out for a few minutes, right?

And a working Sentry Turret. Yeah, he made one of those too. With a trip wire instead of a laser, but if you cross that sucker it auto fires flaming arrows. So, yeah.

Anyway, I booted the game up surreptitiously, feeling like I was sneaking in some illicit pleasure on the side.

It says something about your life when your illicit pleasures comes from playing Portal 2 while your son is in the same room.

I installed Bulletstorm this last weekend as well. That WAS an illicit pleasure, since every time I grabbed a desert zombie with the energy whip and kicked it in the balls, I had to look behind me to see if my son noticed.

Portal 2.

One word to describe a game. One word.

Immersive.

That word gets thrown around a lot, but this game… this game takes the prize.

There aren’t a ton of surprises in here for me. My son watched a Let’s Play Portal 2 series on YouTube while I was in the same room, with the sound on. I didn’t watch more than two or three minutes here or there over his shoulder, but I HEARD the entire story unfold. I came to love each utterance of the irrepressible Cave Johnson, and wished I worked for him in Human Resources. That right there would be an entertaining job.

Doesn’t matter if I know what’s coming. This isn’t a game, this is reality, viewed through a screen that turns from 2d into a window because you forget this is a game. Seamlessly.

Never played anything like this.

I played the first Portal, so I knew what was up with the gun and the portals and the cube and platforms and lasers and such. Each room a puzzle, testing, testing, one two three.

What drew me in was how alive the world is. The most featureless room is bustling with activity, the walls are alive with the sound of screaming (cue Julie Andrews in an orange jumpsuit twirling around…).

Well, they would be screaming if those walls could talk. Instead they move… as hidden arms fumble around trying to pull wall panels in after them, with mixed success.

The smallest touches aren’t noticed as small touches, they are alive. The game has no apparent artifice. It’s natural, alive, unscripted, it breathes and draws you in with the very BEST parts of escaping from reality.

I destroyed each room puzzle because I resented them holding me back from finding out what was going to happen next, what would I see next, what would the panel robots do, where would Wheatley be peeking out at me from, what graffiti would I see, what incredibly snarky thing would GlaDOS say next?

Immersive. But maybe an even better word would be personality.

These are not voice actors reading a script, these are living, breathing neurotic robot AI personalities that grow with every move you make.

And yet, it’s too seamless, too brilliant, too perfect NOT to be scripted. Every single millisecond is scripted, but it’s done so damn well the illusion of an organic, growing environment is perfect.

I started playing it last night, and at some point five and a half hours passed, and I don’t know where they went.

That hasn’t happened in years.

Somewhere in there, I realized this playthrough was precious. It would only happen once. I began taking my time to sightsee, looking at every nook and cranny, peering into cases and looking in ashtrays. Clicking on doors.

Frequently I was rewarded with recorded messages from Cave Johnson, or hilarious trophy engravings. Everything rang with truth. Not THE truth, but A truth.

Cave Johnson might seem like a caricature, but when I worked for one large company, Onan Generators, a company that had started as a small family-owned business, they had a little-used section of the massive plant that showed products from over the decades as the company grew and branched out, and some of those were as crazy as anything Aperture put out. Some of the earliest ones were made for and at the specific request of the US Army. The tales told about old man Onan rivals the personality of Cave Johnson, and while playing the game you might be jolted out of your immersion thinking it’s too far-fetched, but what I felt was an amazing synchronicity of experience.

I had worked for this man before.

I had seen these ancient and abandoned sections of the plant before. I had found the chairs tucked away behind decommissioned boilers where old maintenance men had slept off their drunk on the clock. I had seen the old and amusingly outdated warning signs.

Oldschooltesting-small

This company was a real company, made mythic. It was Paul Bunyan, a tall tale that held more than a kernal of truth in every personality, in each increasingly unlikely but hilarious situation.

I know it goes completely off the rails later. Heck, it goes off the rails when you see the impression your sleeping form made in the mattress at minute two. But before it does, it pulls you in and sells the world. I bought into this place.

When the world changed from the ‘modern’ company testing rooms to the early years, and the architecture and environments changed, they had already had me but now I didn’t want to go.

If I wasn’t a responsible adult that has to have a semi-functional brain at work, I would have played it on through the second morning star and straight on to daylight.

Oh, yeah. There were portal puzzles and testing rooms? I think. I’m not sure. They were all cool and felt awesome to work through, but I didn’t let them slow me down. I couldn’t.

The puzzles were standing between me and story.

I don’t how else to say it. I want this movie. I want this TV series. I don’t need the game part of the game, the game is the vehicle they used to deliver this fascinating story full of awesome personalities. But if the game wasn’t there, if I wasn’t wrestling with the game part of it in my thirst for the next part of the story, would it have grabbed me so strongly? No. No, probably not.

Is there an Oscar award for actors who lent their voice to a video game? I’m sure there is, maybe not an Oscar but I’m sure there is an award somewhere, there are awards for everything, and whoever voiced GlaDOS deserves it.

The power, the nuances behind her voice in those early scenes, the sense that she is programmed to be emotionlessly professional while underneath is this endless river of venom wanting revenge. Ant it’s funny! Oh my God, is it funny. It’s awe inspiring. Her delivery isn’t a delivery, it feels like she’s talking to you RIGHT NOW.

I caught myself a few times standing there, not thinking about the puzzle because I wanted to see what one of those AI would say or do next. A few times Wheatley would say something that would prod me to thinking, “Oh shit, I should figure out a way out of this mess, okay, what was I doing again?”

I don’t know what to say. If you played it when it came out, you know what I mean, and if you haven’t played it, there is probably a good reason for it.

Immersive. Personality.

I am sitting here trying to recall.

When was the last time I had this feeling of immersion in World of Warcraft?

When was the last time I lost all sense of time, I just had to stay, had to see what would happen next, forgot what I was doing or that I was playing a game and just gorged on a damn good story that took me away?

The Warlock Green Fire solo quest through Black Temple. That sucked me in just as much. But briefer.

Okay, so what else? What before that?

Some of the solo scenario challenges in the Isle of Thunder sequence came close, because they combined puzzle-solving with story, but they were too short on story and too long on mindless bash fights.

I can’t really think of any more moments.

That’s not a hit on World of Warcraft, because it’s a different kind of game. WoW isn’t meant to take you out of yourself, because everything is designed to make you choose what to do if questing or grinding, and when raiding everything is built around long term preparation followed by brief moments of explosive action.

In WoW, there are few times where you don’t have an actual quest chain to follow or a map you have to call up. The world rarely hunts you down to drag you kicking and screaming into a quest, you are always seeking out the world and trying to make it notice you.

Raiding really shows this. You have to think, prepare, gear, mess with stats, plan strategies. It’s a football game where your team gets in a huddle before the play and decides on what to do as a team. You break, make the play, there is a furious burst of action and then the whistle blows and you all get together to see how you did while catching your breath. Then someone needs a bio break and someone else has to go to the door to get a pizza.

A different game, not a worse game. But it CAN have moments like it, the Warlock Green Fire questline really showed it. Those moments in Black Temple were intense. And I remember a similar feeling during the Rogue legendary questline when stealthing into the Worgen capital city on an assassination mission.

Is it only solo scenarios that can bring that level of seamless immersion in a scripted sequence of events? Is it possible to have that kind of immersion when working as a team with other players?

Is it the multiplayer aspects of WoW and the allowances we have to make that prevents total immersion in the game world?

I don’t know. I do know I love both games, and I’ll still be playing WoW long after I’ve beaten Portal 2.

I already know one thing, though.

The story of Portal 2 will stay with me and have me thinking about it long after I’m done playing it, while I couldn’t really tell you what the overall story of Mists of Pandaria has been so far without thinking about how to describe it.

Like, we got blamed for some sha by the Shado-Pan because we can’t control our feelings, but they were hear all the time, and Klaxxi invade all the time but Pandarians feel no sense of threat because Shado-Pan so slow down and relax, but trolls and Thunder King bits, and lots of mogu hid somewhere on this small island for thousands of years and nobody thought to hunt them down and finish them, and then sha, and some sha, and Horde sha bits, and then timeless rare hunting and easy-peasy gear upgrades.

And pets.

I’m watching other characters tell a compelling story in Mists of Pandaria, or reading them in books published outside the game.

In Portal 2, it feels more like I’m living it, or more to the point having the story happen to me, with sharp pointy bits.

Okay, 2000 words. Too long, executus, too long. I must add videos!

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When Portal first came out, it was the game that led me to install this Steam thingie that all you young whippersnappers gush about. ‘Digital downloads of games’, pfah!

Why, in my day, not only did we buy our games in a store, and it came in a box 40 times bigger than the disc, but it came with a map of the game world too. In full color.

MADE OF CLOTH WITH LITTLE GOLD TASSELS!

I miss my little gold tassels. [sniff]

BTW, anyone know wtf a whippersnapper is? What kind of whip, and why does the hooligan snap it? What does he snap it AT? I could Google it, but I prefer to live in a world of mystery and adventure.

A world where I envision a wild creature called the whippet, and those brave souls who hunt it entice it to them by cracking their special whip over their heads, a whip made of string and clackers, and they have to snap it over their heads to simulate the sound of a whippet in heat.

But I digress.

Portal.

If you continue to read, I warn you, there will be spoilers. It’s a 7 year old game, and yet here I am, warning you of spoilers as if you intended to rush out and buy it tomorrow, and here am I, bastard that I am, RUINING this special moment for you.

The cake is a lie. THERE I RUINED IT HAHAHAHAHA.

Portal is a brilliant game. I’m a cheap bastard, but even I had to buy this game. The humor! The physics! The evil dark mean streak of that bitch of an AI, GlaDOS.

Great game. Played it all the way through, beat it, and counted myself fortunate I still had the reflexes to manage some of those long multi-portal falling leaps. At least eventually.

My son saw me playing it, and inevitably he wanted to try it, leading me to install Steam on his computer so he could give ‘er a go, guv.

He was very good at it, and this is a game that came out several years ago so he played it when much younger.

He liked playing with the radios, and using portals to take cameras off the walls, and he liked talking about to the computer as GlaDOS told him he couldn’t succeed because a test was impossible and tried to trick him, etc.

Somewhere along the way, his computer died. I bought him a new computer and installed Steam on it, but it was more so he could play games like Terraria (which he doesn’t like) and Scribblenauts Unlimited (which he does like, very much).

I don’t even know how it happened, but earlier this week something made Alex think of Portal, and he was sad face about us not having it anymore.

I told him we do, it’s on Steam.

“On your Steam though, right?”

“On both our Steams, we only have one Steam. You play on the same one I do. If you want to play Portal, we just install it on your computer again. But we lost all the save files from your old computer, so you’d have to start over.”

This did not seem to deter him.

Now, when he played Portal before and was a few years younger, I did not let him play through or past the test filled with automated sentries.

Give the developers of Portal their due credit, they did a fantastic job of making the machine guns and impacts of those little sentries realistic, in a ‘gets you in the gut and makes you anxious to run like hell’ type of realism.

Likewise on those times when you stray into the line of fire, and they nail you with a stream of lead.

I didn’t want him having that in his head at such an early age.

Since then, he has become a Minecraft fanatic, and one of his favorite mods for Minecraft lets you have a working Portal gun in Minecraft… and also automated sentries. With laser sensors and machine guns, too. He likes making maps in Creative where he places them in a big perimeter, and then puts something like a cow in the middle.

The world of making deathtraps in Minecraft takes me back to when I was his age, and Grimtooth’s Traps were the best books in the entire known universe. And I used them as a GM, too. There is just something about designing a trap, and making sure there are specific rules for how to get out of it.

Like the universe has rules. How cute!

With his newly won experience in the Portal sentries (and his increased maturity), I installed the game and let him actually play it as far as his skill and patience would take him.

There is a point to all this. There really is.

I played the game and beat it once myself, and had a great time doing it.

I’m also more than a little cynical, but there were still moments in the game that tugged at my heart and my sense of the romantic, and one of those moments was your forced pairing with the Weighted Companion Cube.

On the one hand, you’re being told by GlaDOS to love and protect this cube. It’s part of the test, and for an old cynic like me there is an element of cold amusement that you’re being manipulated by an insane, twisted AI that wants to kill you.

There is also a good bit of fun feeling that in some small way, JOSHUA from WarGames is the ghost of this machine, heartbroken that daddy is gone and damned well intending to MAKE you play this game with him, and screw chess.

On the other hand though, the cube itself is really cute, and as you play the game you keep coming across all these little graffiti left by previous testers (presumably not as resourceful as you) that show their increasing love for and dependence on the Companion Cube. You see the cube drawn on walls, surrounded by little Valentines’ hearts, etc.

To me, this was a fine example of games as art, where the story and the presentation and all the little touches are pulling me into the game world, making me experience some feeling of what the world is like.

My son, as I said, returned to the world of Portal with an enthusiasm that I didn’t quite expect. Always just settled for puttering around in the early levels before.

We had a snow day here, where it was less than -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Schools were closed, and being an adult, I went to work anyway.

When I get home, Cassie gave me THE LOOK.

“What?”

I wasn’t home, so what did I do now?

“Alex came upstairs sobbing because the game made him destroy his Weighted Companion Cube.”

Aw, geez.

“He got to a part of the game where he had to throw the cube into a burning pit of fire, destroying it forever, just to keep going.”

Aw, geez.

“He made me come downstairs to be with him and watch so he could show it to me before he threw it in, and see the pit, and then he spent some time crying afterward.”

Aw, geez. I totally forgot about that.

I went to check in on him, and he seemed okay, and was playing Portal and working his way through the puzzles.

Later that night, he made a few comments that let me know he was still really sad about it. But he was dealing with it.

Then, during raid, as I fought with Band of Misfits against Heroic Iron Juggernaut, I heard some distinctive GlaDOS dialogue.

WTF?

I turned around, and sure as shit, he was fighting GlaDOS in the final battle. Like, the real final battle. And he one shot it.

Damn if he didn’t clear the entire Portal game from start to finish, clean run, in two days.

And there at the end… after the song that he really liked… there was a cake. The cake was not really a lie. (Real spoilers this time! Muahahaha!)

He defeated a game I swear it took me a week to do. He is a little sadder, and a little wiser, but I know he feels very proud. He did that, and he did it on his own. No videos, no cheats, him and a game and he kicked it’s ass.

He’ll never really lose that small piece of sadness, I know.

But I have a plan. A plan for a surprise that I think will bring a little fun into his life, cheer him up a touch, and earn a space on his bed. It might even join his revered Creeper plush!

a9e0_weighted_companion_cube_plush

There are no instruction manuals for raising a child, but I sure as hell wish someone would give me the cheat codes.

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