Technical Difficulties

A staff writer on writes a bit about how he really got into Age of Conan, and then stopped playing in favor of Guild Wars.

Now I know that AoC puts much higher graphic demands on your system and that Guild Wars has had years to eliminate the performance bugs that still plague the early days of AoC, but none of that mattered. Playing Guild Wars made something instantly apparent to me. Age of Conan is an enjoyable game with a great deal of potential but after a month of intensive play I’d gotten to the point where it just wasn’t worth the consistent and mundane technical hassles involved in playing it. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t frustrated, but at that moment in time I’d found something better to do and so I just stopped playing.

This is the problem I’m currently having with Lord of the Rings Online. My poor old desktop is five years old and, while it’s pretty much tweaked out as far as the hardware will withstand, it can’t get any better, and when I start up Lord of the Rings, the machine’s old bones really start to show. Graphics issues. Lock-ups, some of them system-wide. Horrible horrible lag.
In order to combat this problem (which, rather than getting better over time and bug-fixing on LotRO’s part, has gotten progressively worse as they add newer content and cooler graphics — the problems aren’t bugs, they’re just the way things are), I’ve had to dial my game settings down to the lowest possible. The gorgeous LotRO panoramic views? I don’t see much of them when I have my graphics set to “Low”, to avoid lag — I dial up to “high” to take screenshots, then back to “low” to actually, you know… move. I have a dual monitor system, but one of them is now simply taking up space on my desk, unplugged, because running both at the same time, with LotRO, causes heat problems on my video card, thanks to the strain that the game puts on my card. Don’t even get me started about the hiccuping sound during any of the justly-vaunted cinematics within the game.
I love the game, I really do — I think they’re doing a fantastic job on it, and I acknowledge that the problems I’m having are largely due to trying to run the thing on an old, loyal golden retriever of a PC that really needs to be put out of his misery. Hell, Kate’s laptop is only a few years old and IT struggles with all the rendering it has to do in a busy town.
But, you see… there’s this thing. WoW doesn’t cause me any of those problems. I might have a night of lag, due to a server issue, and when that happens I’m glad to be able to do something else, but that’s a known server issue, easily fixed, not an inability of my Hardware to run the Software. When it comes down to it, I spent many evenings choosing to play WoW over LotRO this last month (even when LotRO can include Kate) because I knew that when I logged into WoW, the game would RUN.
I appreciate that games traditionally push the envelope of what PCs can accomplish — more than any other kind of software, GAMES push hardware developers to climb to the next plateau, and that’s great.
But if you want to really be a huge success? You need to remember that you can’t be so cutting edge that the playerbase spends more time trying to balance on that cutting-knife-edge than they do ACTUALLY PLAYING YOUR GAME.
I mean, it’s not just LotRO. I bought Tabula Rasa because the idea of a good Sci-fi MMO excited me — and couldn’t get the game to play, at all. I made it halfway through the tutorial before I gave up.
I have a copy of Age of Conan gathering dust in my office closet because if I deleted everything but the operating system off my PC, I still wouldn’t have the harddrive space to INSTALL IT — forget about whether or not my other system specs would be up to speed.
It doesn’t matter if your game is awesome if people can’t run it. WoW graphics are comic-book in style (On purpose – comic-book-style imagery has successfully sold for five decades – uncanny valley CGI? Not so much.) and requires what is now low-end hardware to run quite well. That’s at least part of the reason they have retained 10 million active subscribers. Ten. Million. No one seems to know what it is they they’re doing to enjoy the kind of grade-curve-breaking success, but I’ll tell you what they aren’t doing — they aren’t pushing the hardware envelope — that is not, in any way, where they garner their win.
I had a great, really fun time playing Lord of the Rings last night. Kate and I led a group of heroes (total strangers) into the ruins of Fornost, the last, ruined, capitol of the Kingdom of the North, now thick with wights and orcs and wargs and their horrible leaders, bound to life by the morgul blades they wielded. We fought our first Nemesis-level foe, and defeated him only when Kate figured out that we had to light the old Kingdom’s signal fires mounted on the rooftop where we faced him, in order to weaken him enough to win.
It was epic.
But you know what I enjoyed the most? It was the second night in a month where my PC hadn’t locked up while playing the game.
“Not locking up” shouldn’t be the thing I liked the best out of the whole night; that should be assumed.
My one regret of the evening shouldn’t have been “the screenshot I took from the top of the tallest towers of Fornost was pretty boring, because I forgot to dial my graphics back up from the setting where I can play to the setting where it looks good.”


  1. I occurs to me that this is the problem inherent in a lot of the story-driven indie RPGs out there as well.
    Doesn’t matter if the story is better, or the game is leaner, meaner, slicker, and just plain better. If you have to have your ‘system’ (set of players) tweaked to the max to run the game — where everyone gets the weird system and is on board with being co-authors of the fiction — well, the game might be awesome, but it will never, ever, be hugely popular.
    You can, if you want, just show up (log in) and roll some dice, kill some guys the GM throws at you, maybe RP a little (maybe), have some tactical fun and let the GM (Game master in DnD, Guildmaster in WoW) deal with all the intricacies of the plot or the logistics of play. Maybe you write some fiction about your character, when you aren’t playing, but most people don’t.
    DnD is easy. It runs on most anyone’s desktop tabletop.
    There are things that DnD, like WoW, does well in terms of being universally accessible that even the most innovative, cutting edge game designers might do well to incorporate.
    There’s a difference between competing in a sport and playing a game, after all.

  2. I think one of the things I like best about In a Wicked Age is that — despite being totally a crazy hippy story game — it goes ‘back’ to some of that comfort-zone type of play that you see in DnD: conflicts aren’t about ‘stacks’ and ‘deciding what you want if you win’…
    You talk about what you DO, period.
    “I hit you in the face!”
    “I dodge, take a slight cut, and tackle you!” etc. etc.”
    When what HAPPENS is nailed down by the system (like DnD), the negotiation of what you GET finally happens as result of who won and who got owned in the face.
    Old school. I like the Oracles, but it’s that system that makes me really happy.

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