Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mythic Wars

As an amusing side-note to the demise of the MMO concept and its replacement with WoW-clones' meaningless slot-machine grinding, browser-based games have long ago begun calling themselves "MMOs" - and truly, from the point of view of the petty scheisters peddling mindless endorphin fixes through RMT schemes, browser games really are the distillation of what they understand as a multiplayer game. They require the least development investment while still aggressively pushing paid cheating options in the lowest-common-denominator arena of facetious, rigged competition. "Games" composed of a few dozen anime-knockoff images and three or four combat actions have long been calling themselves "MMOs" and trying to convince you to pay $5 for a bigger sword. Strategic options include both "hack" 'n "slash."

However, scattered among the endless, shameless scams all trying to dazzle you into buying some amusement-park dollars, you might still find the odd remnant of by-gone expectations. Browser games' claim to massiveness or persistence is after all not entirely unjustified. The requirements of a persistent world (depth and scope, interconnection, interaction, player agency, etc.) can be fulfilled by 2D images and a well-crafted web-page interface. And though some of my favorite examples from last decade like Xenocide3001 or Aventia have long since gone the way of the Dodo, burrowed in the nooks and crannies of the internet one may still find groups of players quietly going about the business of slinging spells against each other or pitting their armies in bids for world domination, largely unconcerned with the industry's recent obsession with macroing microtransactions.

Mythos has been around for a decade now, and along with its more long-winded sister-game Norron, Mythicwars provides a lovely snapshot of just where the upward trend in browser games came to a screeching halt. Its hey-day coincided, not coincidentally, with the downward turn of MMOs after World of Warcraft's launch and its near-demise came at the same time as the legitimized cheating marketing scheme ramped up. The third iteration of Mythos and Norron's basic layout, though mentioned a couple of times years ago, apparently never materialized. It was not any technological advancement which defeated browser games - if anything they are now better than ever able to compete graphically for customers' attention - but the rush toward microtransaction schemes by large developers (exhibit A / exhibit B) whose advertising drowned more honest games out.

Mythos / Norron even contain a snippet of the old self-imposed limitation on legitimized cheating. Paying into them gives some minor advantages like the ability to see the scoreboard before the round ends. They do not, however, allow players to speed up their in-game actions, buy resources, buy head starts or any other nonsense. Their "massiveness" is also intermediate, with world resets every 40 or 90 days and world size, though somewhat scalable, suited to anywhere from a couple dozen to a few hundred players. There is almost no trading and no crafting. Yet at every angle within this simple template one can see what might have been, what could have been added, if the player population had continued to grow, if Mythicwars had not been abandoned as every munchkin ran off to buy himself some cheats elsewhere.
If the concept of "strategy" would actually sell.

To be sure, it's far from perfect. The issue of multiple accounts, though policed somewhat, has never been successfully addressed in browser games which lack faster-paced game engines' constant demand for player input as a restraint on multi-boxing or alting as a method of cheating. Balance issues abound, gameplay gets bogged down in predictable repetition late in rounds, the lack of crafting and trading makes the game seem shallower than it is, kingdom (guild) mechanics are almost wholly absent and some functionality (integrated combat calculator, for instance) is missing. However, for the few of us whose inner purist recoils in disgust at being forced to buy peons for fifty cents a piece at EA's cash store, Mythos and Norron remain one of the last refuges the microtransacted internet has to offer.

edit 2016/08/22 - Mythicwars ceased running new matches sometime early this year and has been offline for several months now. Rest in peace. While I can't fault its maintenance staff (of one, I believe) for abandoning a long moribund project, I also can't help but mourn the loss of yet another refuge of civilization to the primitive hordes.