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WRUP: I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK edition

Eliot Lefebvre

OK, I'm not a lumberjack. But I do play one periodically, and one of the first songs I ever learned as a child was, yes, The Lumberjack Song. (I was too young to really get most of the joke until many years later.) Also, most of the Massively staffers do indeed skip, jump, and press wildflowers; we're just usually doing so under the pretense of being writers rather than lumberjacks. But we're still OK!

At any rate, let's pretend that I put a segue there that led into talking about this week's WRUP, in which the staff shares what games its members will be playing for the next couple of days while studiously avoiding any mention of using the lavatory. We're also chatting this week about whether or not graphical upgrades are worth the time and resources they consume. So jump on past the break to see what we'll be up to, and let us know what you'll be doing in the comments!

Beau Hindman (@Beau_Hindman): I'll be enjoying lots of time in my new Rise and Shiny game Minions of Mirth as well as playing some Xbox 360 RPGs and a good deal of a few different betas that I cannot speak of. I will, of course, be spending lots of time lurking through gaming sites trying to find those games that look special. It's getting harder and harder as I cover more of them, but they are out there.

As far as developers "wasting" resources on graphical upgrades, well, there is a common misconception that the guy who draws the pictures is also the guy who writes the code. In most development studios, especially the larger ones with which most of our readers will be familiar, there is a guy who couldn't update the code or smash bugs even if called upon to do so. It's simply not his job nor his expertise. Now, if we are talking about a tiny team or a team with people who do have the ability to jump into any role, then they simply need to be careful and listen to the demands of the playerbase. Only to a point, of course -- the customer is not always right. There is another misconception that graphics, fluff items, or other "extra" things are not content or important. First of all, no one player can say what is important to all players. Even if those things are not important to even a great percentage of the playerbase, those players are not the creators of the content or the writers of the story. If the developer (as the artist, essentially) deems a graphical upgrade important to his ability to tell you a story or bring you through an experience (yes, even while bugs remain) then that is his right. There will always be bugs in any MMO. That is the nature of a game that is played by so many different people on so many different setups. Sometimes you just have to make time to create a prettier game.

Brandon Felczer (@bfelczer): This weekend I will be trying to split my time in Telara and the Star Trek Online universe -- I am going to be Livestreaming STO this Sunday as a group of friends and I play through the first of the Borg raids, "Infected." Tune in if you can!

As far as graphical upgrades, they are absolutely not a waste of dev resources -- we are paying to play a game, and I love to see my money go toward improvements of any kind.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I'm kicking myself for not being able to afford Portal 2. This weekend, I'll be chatting to a certain thief in EVE Online to finish telling his story of the great wormhole heist. I'll definitely be giving EverQuest II a re-try as SOE's reactivated my account for a week for free. I'll probably also be trying out the revamped Engineer hero in Heroes of Newerth, because spider mines sound awesome.

I'm of the opinion that graphical upgrades are rarely a waste of development resources. On the art side of things, texture artists and 3-D modellers can't work on anything else. On the technology side, regularly re-developing the graphics engine, creating new rendering frameworks and producing new shader effects have some solid benefits. It keeps the code from becoming an aging monolith that nobody dares to touch, and it helps take advantage of new technology. If over 95% of players have upgraded their gaming rigs since the last graphics update, that's a lot of untapped potential. Graphical upgrades keep an MMO from looking like the previous generation's games, and they really do attract new players.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna): I doubt I'll be playing anything this weekend, although I may sneak in to set up some auctions in Lord of the Rings Online. April is killing me!

Bonus question: I think it depends on the game. There are so many games with neat systems that I just have to pass up because of their looks -- there's only so much time in the day, after all. And yet historically, visual upgrades don't really bring in the new players we might hope. In some cases, they even drive players away (Ultima Online, both EverQuests), either because they push the minimum specs too high or because the veteran population is resistant to change. Unless your game has been well and truly hit by the ugly stick, its resources (read: money) are probably better spent on content upgrades.

Eliot Lefebvre: There are egg hunts going on in both Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV this weekend, and quite frankly, I've been unable to tear myself away from the stuff that's been added in Final Fantasy XIV's latest patch to begin with. Other than that I'm hoping to have a pretty sedate weekend with some movies and some offline games -- maybe some old-school board game action.

The thing with graphical upgrades is that they're so rarely really upgrades -- even the Ultra Mode in City of Heroes didn't revamp the game's extant models; it just touched up a number of lighting and reflection features. When you actually do replace models or textures, people get uppity, no matter how ugly the previous examples looked. And yet the march of time is not kind to most MMOs. I'd love to see a game built with the expectation that there would be several engine upgrades down the line, with some sort of meta-rendering engine at the heart that was built for expansion in the future. Still, that might be an even bigger project than an MMO already is...

Jef Reahard: EVE Online, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online. Sleep when you die.

Graphical upgrades are highly subjective, and for me at least, highly dependent on the game. I'd certainly drop every one of my current (and probably future) games in favor of Ultima Online if it weren't so butt-ugly. Also, while we can assume that the content devs aren't the engine devs, we could also assume that they all fall under the same budget and are therefore jockeying for pieces of a limited pie. Finally, if there were two games that really didn't need any upgrades, those two games would be Age of Conan and Aion. They were already as good as current-gen MMO graphics get.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster): While I would never sully my hands with something as pedestrian as "gaming," I will instruct my manservants to play MMOs for my amusement. RIFT? Definitely. LotRO? Cheeky. Even a spot of League of Legends? Loser gets thrown into the crocodile pit.

As for graphical upgrades, listen. We might like to think we're mature, but the truth is that looks are often important, and if a game doesn't look good -- and continue to look good -- there will be no second date, no breathless proposal, no sacred bonds of matrimony, and no sequels. THINK OF THE CYBER-CHILDREN!

Karen Bryan (@JayeRnH): It's school vacation week, so I'm limited, but I'll try to get in some RIFT and EverQuest II.

Regarding graphical updates, I was a firm believer in better graphics, smoother textures, and shinier particle effects. And then along came Minecraft.

Krystalle Voecks (@Krystalle): It's more DC Universe Online for me this weekend. Now that I'm set for tanks, I'm working on leveling healers up as well as looking for groups.

Personally, I don't have a problem with dev time being used for graphical updates, so long as there is other development being done to repair bugs, create new content, etc. If there were a disproportionate amount of developer time being spent on graphical updates, then yes, that would bug me.

MJ Guthrie: This weekend I am taking advantage of the reactivation in EQII and going to kick the dust out of my place and then venture out and see what new things await in the land of Norrath. I will also be satisfying my techie side be checking out STO. Aion and Xsyon will both be squeezed in as well. I'm also going to attempt something crazy, like venturing out into the real word for a movie!

There are a number of games that I think would do better if they did pay attention to graphical upgrades. I know I hear people tout gameplay over graphics all the time, but the truth is that clunky, dusty, dated-looking graphics do turn people off, and they wander elsewhere for eye-candy. It is natural to admire beauty, and if you are going to be staring at something for hours on end every day (all developers want you playing your heart out), it needs to be something you can stand gazing at that long. There is a major game on the market I actually quit within minutes because of how nauseating the graphics were to me. Didn't care about gameplay one whit at that point. So I think upgrades should not be neglected, because people do care.

Patrick Mackey (@mackeypb): More Champions Online for sure. I will most likely be cruising with my crew in Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator some more this weekend and messing around in the postgame of the too-adorable Recettear.

I definitely think that in most games, graphical updates are a waste of dev resources. I have to clarify this a bit: Adding new animations or art assets is not a waste. Redesigning yon olde graphics engine is definitely a waste of programmer time when new mechanics or content could be created (yes, I realize content designers don't do programming, thanks). I would say that, in basically any circumstance, producing more ways for the user to interact with the world (or more content to explore in the world) is always going to produce more bang per development dollar than updating a graphics engine.

Shawn Schuster (@SSchuster): I'll be spending some time moving house (i.e., settlement) in Wurm Online, which consists of loading up a cart, dragging it down to the shore, loading up my boat and sailing over to another location to do everything in reverse. Then rinse and repeat about five times. It will all be worth it, though!

Bonus question: I don't think it's a waste of resources at all. Look at EVE Online and how it turned a pretty game with no character avatars into a masterpiece of graphics with probably the best character creator out there. I wish there were another graphical upgrade coming to Wurm Online sometime soon.

At the start of every weekend, we catch up with the Massively staff members and ask them, "What are you playing this week?" (Otherwise known as: WRUP!) Join us to see what we're up to in and out of game -- and catch us in the comments to let us know what you're playing, too!

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