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MMObility: Introduction to the column and a look at Ministry of War


Browsers are not what they used to be. These days, we do so much through our browsers that we do not even notice their ease of use, and we trust them to be entertaining, informative and user-friendly. Browser gaming has come a long, long way as well. It doesn't take but a single run-in with any one of the more fantastic titles out there to see just how much can be done within the confines of your favorite web tool.

Not all of our options are text-based or boring. Fully realized 3-D worlds are yours for the taking, as is some of the most clever design in gaming today. I am glad to bring you this new column to cover the world of browser-based gaming, in the hopes that I can speak to those players who might not be able to afford a state-of-the-art gaming machine. This column is squarely aimed at the basic laptop or netbook crowd -- those college students, working mothers and fathers with little time, or even players who are in medical situations that prevent them from owning the latest piece of hardware. Don't worry; it won't be a non-stop parade of repetitive Facebook games. I aim to push that image firmly to the side, replacing it instead with a picture of gaming bliss.

Click past the cut and let's get started!

First, I wanted to reassure the readers of this column that I will be looking for quality games. Hopefully, the checklist I have made will help me along my way.
  • First, I will look for persistence. This means that, no matter the gameplay, the world or universe that players reside in continues on without them. If you decide to log out to go to a meeting, the rest of the playerbase continues on. The changes made while you are away can continue to affect you or can change your situation. I'll look beyond clever instancing and design -- the world must be truly persistent.
  • Second, interaction with other players is a must. This means that you can either group with others, as in a "standard" MMO, or can participate with them in other ways. A true chat window or channel of some kind is more common than not these days, which is very important for interaction. If the game allows only for limited messaging, that's fine, but communication must be real and direct. Remember, however, that "interaction" with other players comes in many forms. Release any pre-conceived ideas about grouping or activities -- browser games sometimes have to think outside of the box to get players to work together (or against each other).
  • Third, accessibility is very important. This is a two-parter. I mean accessibility concerning system requirements as well as physically accessible games. If a browser game is nothing but a heavy-handed, fully 3-D environment that eats away at CPU usage, it is not for this column. Games like Free Realms are often touted as a browser game simply because their access point is the browser, but in reality, the game is like any other standard MMO and is not contained in the browser environment. Also, I want to encourage games that are disabled-player-friendly. Granted, many browser games do not require such high mobility, but it is still important to note the ones that do.
  • Last I want to concentrate on pricing. Stereotypes exist for a reason, and one of those stereotypes is that browser games are nothing but Kingory clones (which is a clone of something else, I am sure someone would say), filled with cash shops that force players to spend hundreds of dollars per month in order to play... at all. Yes, those games do exist. I'll tend to steer clear of them and instead will use this space to discuss the games that do not practice any of that stereotypical behavior. Regardless, I can promise that someone will definitely take issue with almost any cash-shop example I bring up, so as in my other columns, I plan on pointing out how the games work (or do not work) for me, personally. I will play them, see whether they make me spend any cash, and report on it.
Now that I have explained to you how I plan on going about this column, I would like to give you a short example.

I knew very little of Ministry of War before I played it. Honestly, I have nearly 75 browser games bookmarked on my PC right now, so many of the titles sort of blend in. My plan of attack is to take one title per week and explore it, and over the last week I have been exploring the heck out of MoW. What I have found is a Flash-based empire-building game that seemed, at first, to offer nothing new. I've spent many, many hours building up armies and researching new technologies in countless games that look similar to MoW. I would bet that we all have played some sort of RTS, and by this point, a new one would need to be pretty exciting to catch our eye.

"Many browser games place you randomly on a map somewhere (a cheap balancing tactic if I ever saw one), but MoW allows you to choose your side and whom you might be surrounded by."

MoW starts off in standard fashion. You train troops, build buildings, send your hero on solo missions to level up, and figure out where you are in the world and how that will affect your city. I joined the Persians and found myself surrounded by fellow Persians. Many browser games place you randomly on a map somewhere (a cheap balancing tactic if I ever saw one), but MoW allows you to not only choose your side and whom you might be surrounded by but also move your city to become closer neighbors with your friends.

The chat window was very helpful every time I asked a question, and many players even offered to send me goods or protection if I needed it. Allowing players to join nations is brilliant simply because it builds camaraderie. Instead of seeing in-fighting and ganking, I found myself surrounded by brothers and sisters who were eager to help out.

As my city grew, so did my hero. I named him Beau (of course) and sent him on his way with an army of soldiers behind him. If I sent him into battle, I could either control the battle myself using little figures that moved across the screen or allow the fight to play out automatically. I preferred to send him into a fight and would just read the report later. Players can even equip their heroes as they would any avatar in an MMO. In fact, the only thing missing from MoW is the ability to "drive" your hero avatar around a landscape using WASD.

"The rest of the city-building portion of the game felt almost like a glorious toy set. Thanks to the overly generous new player quests, I received a constant flow of goods and gold to grow my city with."

The rest of the city-building portion of the game felt almost like a glorious toy set. Thanks to the overly generous new player quests, I received a constant flow of goods and gold to grow my city with. Even as I played on and off all day, I never ran out of goods to build and experiment with. I also got free treasures in the form of army boosts, experience potions, health potions, and many, many other types of goodies. MoW wants you to keep playing, and the game showers you with items to do so.

As I write this, my army continues to train. My fellow Persians have been planning a major attack, and we have been fighting off small armies of enemies all night. Meanwhile, I am attempting to push my people into the feudal age so that I can access better buildings and technologies, and my hero continues to level up. I even received two very nice pieces of equipment that are waiting for him in my storage.

Since MoW is Flash-based, it will run on any browser that can run Flash. I tested it on Firefox and Chrome and had no issues, but in Opera and Internet Explorer the game had some small issues with re-sizing. Occasionally, I do receive a log-in bug that provokes a refresh of the page, but generally the game runs beautifully on all of my compatible devices. My mighty, basic laptop of choice loved this game; it was perfect for playing while sitting in bed. There are options to turn off floating titles and special effects as well, just in case a player needs to reduce the strain on an older machine or netbook. Overall, the experience of MoW (so far) has been high-quality. It is persistent, interactive, very social, and accessible -- players can control it using but one finger.

Keep in mind that I have not stepped into the higher ranks of the game, nor have I experienced the cash shop yet. My initial glances at the shop offerings revealed nothing but optional buffs and potions that are pretty standard in cash shops, but we'll see how it affects me once I need it.

So there you have it. I hope this new column will help to shed some light on the ever-growing genre of browser-based gaming. I hope to mix it up quite a bit, offering something different each week. If you have any suggestions for great browser titles, leave them in the comments section. See you next week!

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.

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