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30 Days: Cartography, Constants and Collectibles

July 23rd, 2009 by

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Part of the reason I have steered so very clear of MMO titles in the past is for reasons pertaining to my psychological make up. You see, I’m the kind of person with a ‘collector’ mentality and when I get into a game I really like, I have to see everything it has to offer. Trading cards and Tony Hawks 3 have both been major drains on my spare time and income in the past, and when you combine elements of both play and collectibility into an online social world like Free Realms, for me, its a recipe for disaster…

This week then has been a week of pushing forward with quests, starting in-game collections and generally playing the nomad, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where a whole bunch of people have gone before. To be honest, it was my need to see the rest of the areas in this massive world that spurred me on to play the Jean-Luc, and finding an instant transportation device helped too! Instead of restricting travel to the various regions by how far you are in the game, the land is essentially yours to explore, safe in the knowledge that without actively entering a battle, no harm can befall your character. But of all my travels, I found a few things that stayed constant no matter where my path took me.

The first was that I always enjoyed being in the sunshine drenched, greenery covered areas as opposed to the darker or more subtley hewn areas. There’s something about modern gaming that has moved away from the blues and emeralds of Miyamoto’s famous World 1-1 and instead plumped for more natural, more realistic tones when depicting their individual universes. Just wandering around the sandy white beach area, or the light-dappling-through-trees forest was a joy in itself, and with graphics settings turned up high, it truly is a sight for sore eyes.

The second constant was that, wherever you go, there will always be people attempting, whether consciously or not, to break the fourth wall. Jumping erratically about the land, planting lit fireworks around their character, dancing to a crowd of slack jawed online yokels, the illusion of playing a role, it seems, is easily broken. Worse still, players would often leave their avatar in the middle of a road, walk away from their computer and in turn create, albeit temporarily, a deaf, dumb, mute, populating the world with nothing but silence. It’s difficult to derive story from a world like this, and as Free Realms places little focus on plot in the first place, those that enjoy narratives in their games have little to look forward to. I often found myself skipping chunks of poorly written dialogue, something I rarely do, and would find that the best moments of ’story’ came from my own, fairly trivial, actions.

collection

Lastly, each area of the world seems to have ‘collections’ to be found, whether that be fossils, geographical locations or other such nic-nacs. Acting almost as a football sticker album, in your inventory you can check to see which items you have ‘collected’, and gradually build an online portfolio of discoveries. Some will be found naturally, but others require some serious effort to find, using the entirety of the landscape as a giant hide and seek for the 21st century. It’s a fairly neat idea, and to the obsessive compulsive in all of us it’s definitely fun for a spell. But gradually you realise that without something tangible to hold, without a physical trophy to place on your shelf, there’s little impetus to continue.

Completing my quest next week in part 5, I’ll be talking to the citizens of Free Realms and seeing what draws them to Sony’s most successful online world. The final installment will also act as a review for the title in general, and detail the successes and failures from this month long gaming experiment.

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