South Park Self

home is where the art is

Gossamer EndIt is remotely possible that my long-suffering readers were relaxing a tad, and thinking that I'd got all this Andraste's Knicker-Weasel stuff out of my system, and indeed, I have been peaceably (for which read "with the usual computer-game homicidal psychosis") playing Amalur for the last few weeks without much impulse to witter on about its narrative and identificatory processes, since they're really not complex. However, a certain sort of thematic disquisition has been sneaking up on me, with which I shall now unabashedly regale you. Fear not! I shall mention romance only in passing. Probably.

Various lifestyle choices being what they are, it's actually unlikely that I'll ever own my own home, which is possibly why computer-game home-owning is fairly high on the list in my personal Unholy Kick department. I love owning game homes. My gaming life is not complete unless I possess absolutely all and any homes available across the length, lingth and longth of the gameworld, plus those in various DLCs and mods and what have you. I'm a pack-rat accumulator in gameworld to an extent which I simply am not in real life, with minor exceptions such as books and films: somewhere to stash stuff is absolutely necessary if I'm not going to trek across the landscape followed by a small train of pantechnicons. (Poor Lydia, sworn to carry my burdens). And once I own them, I upgrade and furnish them to the max - or, in the case of ME, kit out Shepard's cabin with all the fish, model ships and other bits and pieces that I possibly can (SPACE HAMSTER!) - and in the case of Skyrim, stuff around more or less indefinitely with the console to adapt their contents and facilities to my exacting specifications.

All this being said, it's a source of continual amazement to me how badly thought-out most computer game homes are. Honestly, they seem to fling their design primarily to the art department, guided only by a sketchy, single-page function framework which has "feel free to ignore this" scribbled in the margins somewhere and is probably stored in an unlikely filing cabinet labelled "BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD". As a result, many game houses are exceptionally pretty, spacious, architecturally winsome creations, to actually live in which is productive of such irritation as to at least partially explain the usual computer-game homicidal psychosis.

Herewith, therefore, as a soul-soothing exercise, is an annotated list of What Players Really Want In A Gameworld House, by which, of course, I rather egocentrically mean What Players Who Have My Sort Of Gameplay Needs Really Want. It is remotely possible that in fact it only means What I Want In A Gameplay House, although I would wistfully hope that some of the items are logical enough to be semi-universal - feel free to disagree in the comments. At any rate, any game-designers who happen to read this, please take note.

  • Houses should be somewhere logical. Space them out on the gameworld map, and position them, if at all possible, centrally within an area or in a main city. And they should be on the main road, rather than at the end of three winding alleys, five city blocks, several gates and a giant flight of otherwise pointless marble stairs. Some of us are capable of playing entirely through Skyrim without using fast travel. Archmage quarters seem particularly prone to this problem, as a result of which my Skyrim mage's tower suite is ignored in favour of the cute DLC cottage in the town outside. If I want to pop in to make a few potions, I don't want a mini-quest to get there.
  • Interior design should conform with the above point. One Amalur mansion I've just acquired has a the necessary crafting stations, but only two floors up and at opposite ends of the edifice to the bedroom with my stash in it. Amalur gnomes also apparently use their mansions as extreme roller-blading rinks, as they have a ratio of approximately an acre of useless passages or stairs to every square foot of room space. I don't need to walk for two minutes to get to the smithy. Oh, and houses shouldn't have internal doors, with the need for that moment's meditative pause while the game loads another area.
  • There's a sort of Zen to crafting facility placement in gameworld houses. Designers seem to stick them in, or not, as the whim takes them. I can see absolutely no reason to have a house which doesn't have all the crafting stations, not just a random few. And the blacksmith across the road simply doesn't count - see doors, above.
  • Numbers and purposes of rooms in a building - or, in fact, a spaceship - should allow form in some slight way to actually coincide with function. I am perpetually irritated by the Normandy, which provides one palatial cabin for the Commander, a secondary one for Miranda/Liara, and a crowded crew room full of bunkbeds which I never go into as it gives me intense claustrophobia. Your interesting exotic alien squad members are stashed in life support rooms, cargo holds and the basementy bit under Engineering, where they appear to sleep on folding beds. This is actually several steps better than the first Dragon Age, where you move the squad into a castle sometime towards the end and have them randomly scattered across libraries, kitchens and hallways without anywhere to sleep at all. I mean, how much thought would it take to construct the Normandy floor-plan with more personal cabin space? And castles should damned well have extra bedrooms. Pshaw.
  • Houses should have storage. Lots and lots and lots of storage, including separate chests for different sorts of supplies, and a near-infinite supply of bookshelves. (My tendency to collect books definitely replicates in gameworld). I like Skyrim's barrels, because they make a change from endless chests. And said storage needs to be intelligently positioned, so you don't have to go through three rooms and up a flight of stairs to get from the supply chest to the crafting stand, see above.
  • Display options. I tend to accumulate stuff because I find it very difficult to get rid of an item that's been the focus of a major quest, even if it's a bit weeny in game terms and I'm not going to use it. If I've spent six mini-quest acquiring the Fae King's Sacred Hammer of Wossname even though I don't use a hammer and it's about twelve levels below my current one, I'm damned if I'm going to sell it off: I want it on the mantelpiece. It's a narrative symbol! Points to Skyrim here for all the weapon racks and what have you, although not as many points as it could have, since they run out very quickly, and limited display is possibly even more irritating than none at all.
  • It's really, really gratifying to be able to mess with your house - upgrade it, furnish it, personalise it. I love acquiring a place that's half ruined and watching it improve as I buy more upgrades. I pine for true flexibility in terms of putting extra things in (or, in fact, specifying actual room placement during upgrades) - it's possibly even better than intelligent storage/crafting placement in the first place. Only Skyrim allows this, most accessibly with furniture, and only if you learn the console hacks and the various tricks necessary not to place barrels sideways through a wall.
  • I enjoy a house with an ability, however limited, to reflect quest progression. It's the one bit ME2 did quite well, with random bits of Shepard's quest life turning up in her cabin - a nice touch was the photo of your ME1 love interest, which endures or is turned face down depending on romance choices. But contrariwise, most of ME2 and ME3 drove me nuts because your damned love interest comes into your actual bedroom area precisely once, despite an in-game assumption of ongoing romantic shenanigans and the complete and utter absence of any viable alternative venue for said shenanigans. And, for similar reasons relating to the convoluted subconscious process by which I construct the personality of my avatar, I also don't like sharing my homes without explicitly wanting to - the "conversation" of the Skyrim housecarls very quickly palls.
  • You should damned well be able to take your armour off inside. It's perfectly ridiculous to wander around a cottage with a dirty great staff on your back. The second Dragon Age did this rather well, although they predictably put female!Hawke into a very short tunic; ME gives you a choice of at-home lounging suits, only one of which is a very short evening dress. Sigh. Perhaps this is a subliminal recognition of the possibility that fondness for in-game houses is a very girly thing. Discuss?

This post has ended up being accidentally thematically linked to my last one. Clearly houses are where it's at in the current State of Extemporanea. One way or another. For whatever reason, thank you for indulging me in Yet Another Knicker-Weasel Rant, and please feel free to disagree violently with my house-owning ethos.
  • Current Mood: contemplative randomly analytic
"Only Skyrim allows this, most accessibly with furniture, and only if you learn the console hacks and the various tricks necessary not to place barrels sideways through a wall. "

Not quite true - the home upgrade options can simply be bought from the jarl's steward, I thought.

I've also bought all the Skyrim houses and upgraded them all, although Breezehome is still the one I use most. I'm quite proud of my property empire, so it's not strictly a girl thing.

Have you installed any Skyrim abode mods? There are some really luxurious ones out there that come with every convenience installed, in abundance. Some even have showers! :-)
Ah, but you misunderstand. Skyrim gives you upgrades, but not true flexibility without the console. The Jarl's steward options do indeed give you, in most cases, decent furniture, most of the crafting stations and at least a couple of chests. What the console allows you to do is to delete the more irritating bits of decor (I hate all the animal heads), and to add, more or less wherever you want to put them, extra chests, barrels, bookshelves, any crafting stations the designers didn't bother with (my Breezeholm and Archmage quarters also have all the blacksmith stuff), shrines, cupboards, tables, chairs, etc etc etc. I can spend hours on it, patiently fiddling placement so it's exactly right. That's where the barrels halfway through a wall come in, the placement commands are not entirely intuitive. I do have some of the mods, but a couple of them crashed my game fairly consistently and I got a bit gun-shy.

I must cop to having made the "girly" comment entirely in the spirit of irony, so fair comment :>.
LOTRO housing is ghastly to get to, as all the housing neighourhoods are stuck miles away from anywhere else, requiring at the very least a horse ride from the nearest town. As a result, as soon as you get a house (only one per account per server) you also get a skill that allows your toons to teleport there once an hour. It's all very, VERY pretty but only useful as storage. No crafting and minimal display. Plus you have to pay rent so if you go AFK for more than 6 weeks you get locked out. There are various items available (from vendors, crafting, festivals, quests and raids) that you can use to personalise your house, but there is really no reason to go there other than to get something out of storage or for roleplay. (Oh, and to use my keg that teleports me to random destinations in Moria when I use it, I love that one.)

I suppose the problem of game housing is why the Sims franchise is so appealing. Even without the good gameplay of Sims 2, Sims 3 offers players the opportunity of creating anything from a customised house to an entire seamless neighbourhood and there are lots of people who play it just for that.

I don't play very often but when I do I always find myself doing extensive housing alterations. The sims always seem to end up with sprawling basements for partying or crafting or storing all their looted Egyptian relics.
Bah. You haven't owned a virtual home until you've owned a Wizard101 virtual home. Change the wallpaper, change the flooring, craft or purchase furniture/decorative objects/fountains/etc.

You can get the depressing, fog-ridden Death House (significantly modeled after the Bates Motel, but not identical)...or buy a multi-story giant tree to live in.

I started playing because of my nephew I'm addicted on my own now. It's purportedly a kids' game, but it's a kids game the way old cartoons are kids' entertainment. There's this other level, of witty pop-culture references, that are droll and amusing
Sigh. You've reminded me again of how far ahead of everything else Star Wars Galaxies was. I pine for my Tatooine Medium House that I wasted a ridiculous amount of hours decorating.

You could place a wide variety of furniture, decorations and, yes, crafting stations, almost anywhere inside, and rotate or elevate it exactly as you pleased. There were amazingly creative players who must have taken hundreds of hours to put together the most incredible homes, guild halls, shops and cantinas. It even spawned virtual interior decoration businesses, as this sad page with its broken links shows

It went further, since SWG allowed for player cities with mayoral elections. The mayor controlled exactly how all civic and player structures were placed.

All gone now. *cry*