Saturday, November 29, 2008

When will WoW die?

"Kids! Stop playing WoW please. It's time for your hover board practice!"

I'm worried thats what I'll be saying 15 years from now. WoW has massive longevity potential. If Blizzard keep adding new features as well as new content, the game can only keep going up. When the graphics start looking old, they can just bring out a patch with high res textures and higher polygon models. Honestly, WoW's only real threat is itself. The main reason players leave is because they're burnt out from ridiculous raiding commitments or are fed up with the grind. If Blizzard manage to solve this problem, I dare say that even I might go back.

My mum always told me to make sure I was the first person to go into a job interview. That way the employer compares everyone else to you. WoW has a massive head start on all future MMORPG competition and as a result gamers will be comparing all new MMORPGs to WoW. Unless the new game has topless female elves that shit gold bars, there is no way WoW can be beaten. In fact I believe the only thing that can bring WoW down is Blizzard itself. Either Blizzard will decide to make another MMO (highly unlikely) or they stop supporting WoW (even more unlikely). I have high hopes for Guild Wars 2, but I can't see it toppling the giant unless Blizzard make a mistake.

Innovative game design ideas are slowing down and as a result players are getting picky with their games. Buzz features are much less popular now than good old game polish. Cool features will attract the initial crowd, but it's the polish that will keep them there. Since the MMO business world is all about retention, only the most polished games will succeed, and WoW positively shines with polish. The annoying thing is that if a new game really does have an awesome new feature that could actually threaten WoW, then Blizzard can just add it to WoW. Boom head shot.

I've got a bottle of champagne in the fridge ready for when WoW falls, but I'm sure it'll go off long before WoW does.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Game design 101

We all bitch about the repetitive nature of MMO's, how we have to grind the same old mobs and areas and whatnot over and over and over again. Everybody talks about which carrots should be dangled in front of which player's faces to make them do these things a bit longer.

What is wrong with this picture? Why do players have to be given shiny items in exchange for playing your game? Isn't your game fun?

Well, in a way, it is. The first time you do it. The first time you use a skill, use a combination of skills, kill a particular enemy, solve a quest, clear a dungeon, defeat a boss, it's fun. It's new, it's unexpected, it was probably a nice scripted little encounter. But what happens when the player runs out of nice scripted little encounters? What happens when they reach the end of the story? The game has lost its appeal, and the player moves on to another game. Unless they can....

1) Play co-op with friends. It's fun. All MMO's have this one down, don't they? Oh wait, my friend who just started playing can't play with me because he is some noob level. And the LFG system sucks, so I can't find anybody new to play with either.

2) Play PvP. Yay PvP, players make the content for you! Again, most MMO's have this don't they?

Except, oops, we included a massive level and item grind to keep players playing to make up for our lack of features, which means nobody who likes PvP would want to PvP, which means many people leave the game after finishing the story anyway. Or, oops, again, we have a piss poor LFG system, so nobody can PvP even if they wanted to.

3) Complete the game on a harder difficulty. Challenge makes games fun.

4) Achieve a high score. Or, in its modern variation, achievements. Basically, any collection of ASCII characters that recognizes someone who is really good at playing the game, so that the player can feel as though their e-peen has just risen in size. Again, the challenge of getting the best achievements or the high score leads to fun.

Caveat to that: Saying "yay I've grinded 10,000 goblins" is not fun. Make it something challenging, not something time consuming.

5) Try different classes. Playing through the game with a different class gives the game heaps of replayability... you can re-use the same areas and storyline, yay!

Except.... Oops, I can't play through the game with this new class. Because I'm a healer and I can't kill anything by myself. Or I'm a tank and I do no damage. Or I'm a nuker and I have to pull stuff one at a time or risk being overwhelmed.

For solutions to this problem, see Diablo 2 (7 classes, all do plenty of damage and have solo survivability, but in groups can fall into various group-based roles to encourage teamwork), or Guild Wars (henchmen allow any class to solo).

The other setback is that a veteran player may not want to take forever to go through all that new content. In Guild Wars I can try out a max level character whenever I want to, and in Diablo 2 it would take a day tops to get rushed through the game to max "ish" level to try out a new spec.

All other online RPG's, go home, you failed on this one.

6) Generate their own content. Pfff nobody would ever play this would they? Nobody ever played Counterstrike, or Team Fortress 2, or Enemy Territory, or Defense of the Ancients did they?

Oh wait, they did. Now, releasing your source code and all is nice, but what's even better is cleaning up your level-making GUI a little and, boom, anyone can make their own stuff. Introduce an in-game rating system and you have yourself a bunch of happy little monkeys.

Reason this didn't work that well for Neverwinter Nights: every server had their own 'house rules' which players can't be bothered learning, sizable download just to try out each world, no in-game rating system, people have to provide their own servers which means the really popular worlds couldn't gain in popularity, etc. Avoid these mistakes and you're golden.

It doesn't have to be whole levels either. We've all seen the phenomenon that is Spore.

7) Leave for a while, and play casually. Seriously, everybody gets sick of playing the same game over and over. They might take a break for a couple of months. When they come back, if they've fallen behind the raid grind, or an expansion has come out that raises the level cap without adding a TON of new functionality for your character to acquire, or if it's impossible to just hop on quickly every now and then and do something fun, you have failed.

That last point is important. In order to be able to hop on and play every now and then, players need instant travel, or instances they can enter from wherever they like (yes, WAR scenarios are good in this respect). They don't want to log on and watch a great big winged beast that they can't control flap around for 15 minutes and then spam LFG for an hour to do what they wanted to do.

However, in lieu of all this stuff that is quite easy to implement, MMO designers instead.... make it take longer to do stuff. Make you spend months leveling up, doing the same things over and over again. Make it take forever for you to travel anywhere (if a player wants to take in the scenery, they will. Let me just get to where I want to go, thanks). Making it necessary to get a large number of people together to do particular content, and then making it really difficult to get a large number of people together. Etc.

The focus is not on designing a good game, not to let you have fun, but to make the company a lot of money. Wake up and smell the roses people! It's only when crap games like these stop attracting large amounts of money that developers will be forced to make MMO's that don't suck.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Automatic balance

I've just started playing Left 4 Dead yesterday. Brilliant game etc, and I'll write a review when I've had more experience with it.

But I wanted to comment today on the ridiculously simple, perfect notion of game balance that they have achieved in PvP. For the record, my definition of balance is this: both teams having equal chances to win. As a rule, this is easy to do if both sides are the same (chess, mirror matches in many games) but difficult to do if you want to include variety in the game (aka fun).

So anyway, back to Left 4 Dead. One side is the survivors, the other side the zombies, and after the survivors make it to the finish or (more usually) are wiped out.... the teams switch sides. The human players switch to the zombies and vice versa.

Not only is this ridiculously fun, it completely removes any unfairness towards one team being able to score points more easily than the other team. The game seems not too unbalanced in that respect anyway, but that's beside the point. If the game were completely unbalanced so that one side were much better than the other, it really wouldn't matter. Both sides would get to compete equally over the course of the match.

Imagine this idea applied to other games. Take Magic: The Gathering for example. In constructed format, both players get to choose their decks before the game starts. This ensures an absolute ton of variety, however, there are often rock-paper-scissors match-ups where one fellow would have to be very lucky to pull off a win. If the players swapped decks after a game, this advantage/disadvantage disappears.

Now, some players might say - "if I'm a pro deck builder and the other guy is noob, I lose any advantage that my superior deck building gives me??" Well.... yes. If you're a better player though, you'll win anyway. But, if this is seen as a big problem regardless, a handy compromise could be made: In a game where 3 matches are played, you could play 2 games with your own deck and 1 game with the other person's deck. This would go a good way to evening up the balance while still providing a bonus to the guy with the better deck building skills (just not as big a bonus as previously).

The technique can be extracted to many other games. A notable example I can think of that suffers from Rock Paper Scissors is Guild Wars Guild vs Guild battles.

Now, extracting the idea to an open RvR game like WAR (was supposed to be) would be more difficult, and would require the game to be designed for it from the ground up... as a starting point, a proper LFG system would be required to *ensure* even numbers on both sides. People may or may not like swapping bodies with the other team, but I'm sure there's a good way to do it that would allow maximal balance with minimal fuss.

Any thoughts on these ideas?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review old games

Several people have responded to Zubon's challenge to review old games with awesome gameplay, so I thought I'd throw my 2c into the mix with these mini-reviewlets:

Betrayal at Krondor: RPG by Sierra based on the world of Midkemia created by Raymond E Feist, one of the greatest fantasy writers ever in my book. One of the best RPG's I've ever played, second only to the Baldur's Gate series, and only then because of the dated graphics. Viewpoint is first person for navigation, and third person turn-based for combat. Although turn-based the combat does not take too long, and is simple without being shallow. The game has a really well done story but still manages to encourage free roaming and a really sandbox feel to everything. There are no levels - skills are improved as you use them, and spells are acquired from scrolls found on your adventures. Solutions to problems are solved with brains as much as with brawn, and often cause you to think outside the box, but in an intuitive (not frustrating) way.

Well worth a look for only ~ 20 Mb download and will give you tons of play time. The graphics are the only downside, but are much better than any other first person party-based RPG from the same era, and honestly still don't bother me to this day.

Sword of the Samurai: I can not put into words how brilliant this game is. You control a young Samurai lord in Feudal Japan who eventually rises through the ranks to try and become Shogun. The game features three distinct modes of play - RTS battles with your army to control territory, third person sword duels, and top-down shoot/stab-'em-up where you take on hordes of lesser warriors. You can gain honour, recruit troops, dishonour your enemies, slaughter bandits by the dozen, assassinate anyone standing in your way (don't get caught!), rescue fair maidens (who you then marry and get cranking out heirs for you to play with when your current character becomes too old!), kidnap your enemy's family, and fend off cowardly attempts on your life by hired ninja assassins and other samurai lords. There is no linear way that you have to play the game, with complete freedom to choose how you will advance.

There is heaps of replayability because of a wide selection of difficulty levels (the hardest is *really* hard), a high score system that ranks how long your reign of Shogunate will last for, and various starting territories with their own pro's and cons.

This game would be freaking awesome in multiplayer, but alas the game does not support it. Still, countless hours worth of fun in this one.

Speedball 2: Futuristic, top-down, action-packed, beat-em up sports game. Players throw around a big metal shotput which they have to attempt to put in the goals at the other end of the field... while players from the other team attempt to smack them to the ground and steal the ball. Players can get knocked out and are carried off the field by mini ambulance robots, which is always hilarious.

In between each game, you purchase upgrades for your team members to make them stronger, faster, have better AI, etc. Your little fellows will start off fairly slow and weak at the beginning of the season, but by the end you can fling them all over the place at breakneck speed. The computer teams rise in power too, with the object being to make it into the grand final at the end of the season. This is no mean feat, and the game gets quite challenging (in a good way) towards the end of the season.

Controls are dead simple so the game is really easy to get into, but there is a lot of depth with the design of the sports stadium and the various tactics which you can employ, that has made the game one of my all time favourites. It's fast, fun, highly addictive, 2 player on the same computer, and has multiple 'quick game' typed options if you just want to jump on and muck around. All in all, a must have!

Anyway, if you think any of these sound appealing, try them out and let us know how you got on!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why don't they milk it?

When a new MMO is released, about a hundred websites pop up offering some kind of service relating to the game. These websites include wikis, forums, item databases, 'armories', games stats etc. I would imagine that a professional website for a popular MMO would receive daily hits somewhere in the millions (and then some if the game is something like WoW). I'm no business expert, but I could image that the advertising revenue for a website like that would be considerably high. It wasn't that long ago that sold for over a million dollars. Not bad for a database with a 'pretty front end'.

So this raises the question: why don't the games companies build these kind of websites and make a few dollars on the side? After all, they own the data. It would only be a matter of slapping a 'pretty front end' on it. Given that they could build the website prior to the release of their game, they would have a good headstart on the competition. I wonder if there is a particular reason as to why the game companies don't milk it? To me it seems like a wasted opportunity.

You're probably wondering, why should I care?

I care because if game companies have an alternate source of revenue to the usual sales, subscriptions and micro-transactions, it might encourage them to lower their prices. Better yet, make the game completely free. Some time ago I explored different pricing models for online gaming and I think this constitutes a new model. Profit through indirect advertising. I can't actually think of any bad points for this model. The gamers get a cheaper / free game with supporting websites and the game company has a source of continuing revenue. Am I missing something or does everyone benefit?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cue flurry of blog activity...

Some Swedish kid playing WoW appears to have collapsed after a 24 hour stint:


WTB more friendly leveling curve.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The WAR is over for me

I canceled my WAR subscription just before the renewal kicked in today. I'd actually stopped playing over a week ago mainly because I was no longer having fun. The game has a slew of issues, which I'm not going to re-iterate over here. Keen covers them off nicely. I might go back to it when Mythic fixes up a bunch of the existing problems, but I can't see that happening for at least a year.

On reflection, what did I like most about WAR and what did WAR really bring to the MMO table?

I loved the fact that the game was designed from the bottom up for PvP with some PvE thrown in for good measure. Although I love my PvP, it's just not as fun without the PvE around. When talking about what new things WAR introduced to the MMO-a-sphere, many people would say Public Quests, Tome of Knowledge and Open RvR. Honestly I thought these were all pretty crap. PQs sucked when there was no one around, ToK could have been better (I barely used mine) and Open RvR had issues a mile long. If you ask me the best thing that WAR introduced was Tactics, Morale skills and the ability to level up via PvP. I've never seen interchangeable passive skills (Tactics) used in an MMORPG before. I thought it worked very well. Moral skills provided the player with a a sort of bonus super skill when the battle started heating up (very cool), and leveling via PvP made it much more enjoyable for PvP players like myself. It provided an alternative to questing and the hopeless PQs.

So where to now?

My mates at work have been bugging me for a very long time to download the Orange Box from Steam, so I did. I've never been a huge fan of FPS, but I don't mind it if the game is well built. I completed Portal over the weekend, which is the coolest puzzle game ever. Although it only took four hours to complete, I highly recommend checking it out. Well worth it's weight in gold. I wasn't sure which part of Portal was better, the game play or the story line - both brilliant. Team Fortress 2 is awesome fun, but I really need to level up my FPS skills again to play competitively. Half-Life 2 is insanely well built, but I can't see it entertaining me for more than a few weeks. I do like how the NPCs interactive with you. RPGs could definitely learn a thing or two from that game. OpenEdge has convinced me that The Witcher is worth a look. I'll probably check that out after I finish with my little FPS binge.

I'm not sure when the next 'big thing' in the MMO space will occur, but I'm welcoming the single player break for a while. Mind you, if Guild Wars 2 got released tomorrow, I'd say: "to hell with these noob single player games" ;)

Friday, November 14, 2008

The 4 year itch

Big mama has landed - WotlK has finally been released. But if you're reading this, I'm assuming you're not playing it, since you'd be busy doing a lot of 'content' and/or grinding.

If you're like me, you can't really be bothered logging into WAR either, because it frankly seems like a bit too much effort to bother trying to create some fun for yourself there. So, you're cruising the net hoping for mention of some saving grace to come and rescue you from the incredible wasteland of "Meh" that is MMO land.

Well, that saving grace is not here. Sorry to get your hopes up.

In the meantime however, you should content yourself with games that are decidedly UN-MMO-like, so that when the savior does arrive, you are suitably non burnt out so that you can enjoy it. This means that you should dabble in games that are quick and fun, offer something different to what you've played before, and are easy to find others to mess around with if you like that sort of thing.

Towards this end, I gave Iron Grip: Warlord a try after reading an encouraging review.

Basically, the game is an FPS that features the human controlled players battling to defend against an ever growing swarm of NPC's that are attempting to take over a city. Yes, yes, I know, I'm a big RPG nerd too and I usually don't play FPS's either. However, this one features a neat money system for killing the enemy NPC's, which enables you to place various structures like an RTS, or buy various upgrades for yourself like an RPG. The gameplay is very guerrilla warfare, and very strategical. I can't aim for peanuts in an FPS usually, however I still often top score the games since I use my head when I play. Also, aiming is really not an issue because the game is entirely co-op PvE... there are no enemy players on the other team, just NPC's. So you don't have to worry so much about lag and bunny hopping.

The game is super fast paced and has zero story. You can play it in single player, but it's a whole hell of a lot of fun with other people. There are a slew of difficulty levels to choose from, with the game being extremely difficult on the harder ones, which really promotes team work.

Downside is that there is ZERO story, at all, so don't say I didn't warn you.... but then again you're looking for quick clean fun, not a bunch of boring text and cut scenes to wade through right? Also, the graphics are hardly cutting edge for an FPS. Crimson tried it after I told him to, and his response was something along the lines of "lulwot... when is last time u play fps noob??". However, Crimson is somewhat of a graphics whore, and I am not, and I can ensure you the gameplay is very fun :)

The download is only 400 Mb, and FULLY playable ONLINE for ZERO dollars (you only get to play on one map). I payed $25 since I was having a good old time, and got access to the other maps which are neat. I decided to justify this expenditure by cancelling my WAR subscription, since, well, I've had more fun playing Iron Grip than in a month of playing WAR.

You can get the game here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Seamless server transition

/start of being a tight ass MMO game company

So you created a character on a different server to your friend and now you want to swap so that you can play together? I'm sorry, but that's going to cost you! Changing servers is expensive... didn't you know? At a technical level we have to change one field in the database. That's expensive work... so that will be $25.

What do you mean your server is at a low population and you want to change because it's ruining your gaming experience? $25!

You're sick of being ganked on a PvP server and now you want to swap to a PvE server?? Oh... that's too bad. $25 please...

/end of being a tight ass MMO game company

/start rant

You get my point. The greatest con job in the history of MMO gaming would have to be charging for character transfers. There is no reason why the whole process of transferring a character from one server to another can't be automated and made seamless so that a player can move from one server to the next without a cost or hassle. So why do companies like Blizzard and Mythic charge for the service? Well there are in fact a couple of reasons, but the main one is more $$. I can't actually think of any downsides to allowing players to migrate around servers freely, aside from potential overcrowding. Beats under population in my books.

I think it's funny that Mythic wants to charge for character server transfers when they are having so many server population issues. I also think it's funny that they copied the con job from Blizzard and expect to get away with it (actually they probably will). I suppose they have to earn a few extra bucks on the side...

ArenaNet have already announced that Guild Wars 2 will have seamless server transitions for characters built in as core functionality. No costs involved. It will work similar to changing district at the moment, except you will change server. There are no hassles with conflicting character names because names are unique across all of GW2. They achieve this by enforcing something called a 'last name' for your characters upon creation. Incredibly this allows for more than one person to have the same first name for their character... who would have thought it possible? Not Blizzard and not Mythic, that's for sure.

/end rant

Saturday, November 8, 2008

WAR: Switching modes

I play an Archmage, and one of the biggest annoyances is having to swap armor, weapons and tactics every time I want to go from damage to healing mode (and vice versa). I wanted two buttons, one that said 'Healing Mode' and one that said 'Damage Mode'. I wanted to click either button and all my items and tactics would instantly be set for that mode. Was it too much to ask?

I looked around for an addon that would do this but the closest I could find was ClosetGoblin, which only really fulfilled half my requirement. So I did a bit or research and it turns out I could do the rest with some clever macro ninjoring. Now I have my two buttons and it is the greatest thing ever. It's so handy that I can't imagine playing without them. I figured that there must be others out there that shared the same pain as me, so here's the steps I took to create the 'mode buttons':
  1. Download the ClosetGoblin addon from Curse (you will also need LibSlash).
  2. Install both addons and then fire up WAR.
  3. Open the Closet Goblin window by typing the following command into chat:
    /cg show

  4. Create and set up two (or more) Closet Goblin sets (may require a lot of item shuffling):

    I used 'Heal' and 'Dmg' as names, but you can call them anything you like.
  5. Open the main menu (press 'esc') and click 'Macros':

  6. Select one of the empty macro spaces and choose an icon and enter a name for your macro (e.g. 'Healing Mode').
  7. Enter the following into the 'Macro Text' section:
    /script TacticsEditor.OnSetMenuSelectionChanged(1) ClosetGoblin.ActivateSet("Heal")

    Note: there is no line break used in the above script. Replace the highlighted text with the number of the tactics set you wish to use and the name of the set from ClosetGoblin:

  8. Now click 'save' and drag the macro icon onto your skill bar:

  9. Repeat steps 6 to 8 for each mode button you wish to create.
You can now use the buttons (while not in combat) to quickly swap between whatever item sets and tactics you like. This trick will work for any class, not just the Archmage. You might be a tank with 'Tank Mode' and 'Damage Mode'. The time and hassle saved in the long run is well worth it. Ahh.. sooo much better... ;)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How important are levels in our MMOs?

I started to reply to syncaine's recent post but as usual it ballooned out, so I am just going to paste it here. Paraphrase: syncaine debates the pros and cons of having levels in MMOs, and is undecided.

You definitely have to gradually introduce people to their class. Starting off with 2 skills and acquiring them as your brain can handle them, rather than lumping you with everything all in one go, is a must. This is by necessity an exponential progression - we can handle several things to start with, but need a bit more time each level to adjust to our new set of skills before progressing to the next level.

However, leveling is boring once there is too much time in between levels, as there are no new shinies to play with. The exponential feature really starts to kick in (and suck) in terms of time investment at a certain point. It also starts to suck because the developers simply run out of ideas for what your new skills can do.

They solve this by either
a) letting you advance an entire other skill tree concurrently. This carries the risk of having more and more overpowered combinations of skills, and also provides the character with too many options to choose from at a given time; or
b) make use of "power creep", ie give you a skill that does 10% more damage, which is really meaningless because they simply gave the monsters 10% more HP in the next area
c) give you crap skills that nobody would ever use (of course people still use them, because they sound cool or something. This ruins their game experience (makes them suck), and my game experience (makes my group suck).

The main reason that leveling sucks though, is that the farther down the leveling path you get, the less and less likely it is that you're going to be able to group with a given player, which presents a major barrier to grouping. Which is the whole point of an MMO in the first place.

So, I think the leveling process should stop at a certain point. This point is where you are no longer gaining new, useful functionality after leveling up. The leveling process should take long enough that you get used to all your skills, but not so long that it starts to drag.

After this point, progressing through the game should be rewarded horizontally, and with fluff. ie, players unlock more and more respec options, as well as cool titles, emotes, armor/weapons, housing, etc, to stroke their e-peens with. I think Guild Wars struck a good balance in all these ways.

However, syncaine didn't like Guild Wars. This could be because
a) He is an MMO hampster on the great MMO hamster wheel.
b) There are no elves/orcs etc. Many people find this subconsciously unacceptable.
c) Most likely: there was no persistent world to run around in. The towns are like lobbies to group up with people, and then everything is instanced.

I'd say like I usually do that Guild Wars 2 will save us all since it will have much more persistence, however, I found out recently there's talk of the level cap being 100, or *possibly limitless*, which is of course epic fail /facepalm.

Another cool system was found in Eve. In this game smaller (cheaper) ships are more agile, and so the very large ships can't hit them. This allows "noobs" with small ships to contribute in battles in ways that the people in larger (more "advanced") ships can not, allowing everyone to play together. The game definitely makes use of horizontal progression - a different ship is like a different respec. The only problem is of course the time-based skill grind. If they removed this and turned it into a fantasy game, I would be very happy.

However, this conflicts with the bottom line, which is of course making the most money out of the game. As long as we see developers ruled by this notion, our games are going to continue to suck.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The real Gwen?

ArenaNet recently held a Guild Wars Halloween art competition, which appeared to be very popular. I didn't actually enter it myself, as my somewhat sub-par design skills leave a lot to be desired, but I still enjoy checking out all the different entries. This year's winner went to a girl, who has done an extraordinary job at looking like the in-game character Gwen:

Here is a screen shot I took from the in-game Gwen:

The attention to detail is unbelievable.. right down to the flower clip in the hair! Very very cool. She also used a an awesome RP name for the entry: 'Aurora Astralis'. Damn.... I think I'm in love ;) I wonder if the outfit cost 150 cloth, 25 linen and 5 platinum? Glad she (and who ever helped) won it, as it was well deserved.

Monday, November 3, 2008

PvE > PvP?

Tobold certainly has a knack for producing topics that are likely to ellicit a lot of comments. I must adopt this feature in my blog.

In this entry (I paraphrase) Tobold tells us how WoW is king, WoW is PvE, therefore PvE is much more popular (4 times apparently) than PvP.

It's true that games that are predominantly PvE have more of the market share at the moment. But this doesn't mean that people prefer PvP to PvE. There are a lot of reasons for the relative successes of various titles, not the least of which is the amount of bugs on release. Age of Conan, for instance, had massive performance issues limiting its accessibility, and many ridiculous bugs (males > females, just in case you didn't know). We could just as easily look at the market today and conduct an equally insightful analysis that games that runs smooth are more popular than games that crash (gasp).

Additionally, a lot of the games that are labelled as PvP are nothing but massive grindfests and/or gankfests, such as Lineage or Eve.

It seems obvious that the PvP games are an evolutionary step or two behind PvE games in terms of being friendly to casual players, not sacrificing the enjoyment of many for the fun of a few, etc. As well as the fact that it's the less popular developers that have traditionally pushed the PvP genre, so that they don't have to compete directly with the market leaders.

And now, to switch things around a bit, I'd now like to defend something about PvE that Tobold stated:

"Perfect PvE means continuous advancement of your character in power, be that in level or gear. Perfect PvP requires characters being not too far from each other in power level, so that factors like skill and organization have a chance to influence the battle"

ERGH. Really? Perfect PvE *in an MMO* for me is zero advancement in power with instead the opening up of more versatile options to choose from. Reasons: Focus is put on tactics and teamwork, no grinding, no barriers preventing players from playing with each other, no barriers preventing players from experiencing content.

Single player games are a different story (I heart single player leveling), but the current MMO PvE sucks because it stops us from playing with each other.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bringing quests back to the 1990 level

This was prompted by this article. Syp says that real quest text has become a thing of the past, and rightly so.

I loved quests in old school RPG's. Give me a quest in something like Baldur's Gate and I would leap to it. Freeing slaves, vanquishing a mean old ogre at the bottom of a dungeon, finding a crazy old wizard that last ingredient in his magic machine of doom, stealing a rare item from a guarded museum at night, slaying a mighty dragon, solving a murder... usually with some plot twist thrown in to keep you on your toes. These were the glory days of RPG's in the freaking 90's man.

So what do these old school quests have over the mindless click fests that are the modern day MMO quests?

1) Something changes in the game world - yes, we'd need a lot of tech for this to happen in an MMO, but I hope we're all still optimistic that someone can do it.
2) No floating icons or points marked on a compass - you *have* to read it if you want to know what to do (yes, this would increase the required maturity level somewhat to play the game... yes, this would be a good thing)
3) Quests take longer, which cuts down on the amount of quests the writers need to write, and allows them to contain more story than the usual kill ten rats.

I can think of only one way to have MMO quests continue in their current state and for people to actually know what the quest they're doing is about, and to follow the plot of the game in general:

Picture in picture!

Seriously, why can't I have a little talking head of the NPC when I get within range (no clicking) who gives me some initial babble. If I like the sound of it, I click accept, and then while I'm running on my way to kill those ten rats, since I'll likely be bored anyway, I can entertain myself by just listening to some voice acting for the quest. And, if the developers really want to go all out, they could show a little machinima that illustrates what the guy is talking about. Like, a little movie of the bandit leader making off with the princess, or whatever.

Doesn't waste any of my time, and makes the quest more interesting because I've got something to do during my travel time. Let me pause and rewind the dialogue, and of course view the text, and replay the mini cutscene whenever I want later (Tome of Knowledge should come with video playback right? It's a freaking magic book, if Harry Potter can do it...)

It's kind of a band-aid solution, and I'd prefer to see quests like they did back in the old days, but I'll take anything at this point!

Staying a step ahead

I'd like to propose a game design theorem here. I'm sure it's been stated in one form or another before, but I've really come to realise the truth of it over the last couple of weeks. The theorem is:

Players will try their hardest to make your game suck.

Or, alternately:

Players are like "fun" lemmings walking towards a cliff, and developers need to stop us from hurling ourselves into the abyss of failure.

Players don't WANT to play a shitty game. They don't WANT to ruin their own fun. But they will. Let's take the flavor of the month at the moment, ie WAR. As players, we:

1) Only start exploring all the avenues open to us once hitting the level cap
2) Play scenarios almost exclusively even though we drooled over keep sieges before release
3) Play the same god damn scenario all the time, because it gives us the most points
4) Refuse to learn how to actually win at the scenarios
5) When actually in open RvR, actively make plans to avoid the other team, attacking undefended objectives and keeps. This turns it into an easy PvE raid.
6) Use ridiculous magnet tricks to wtfpwn people with AoE.
7) Use any abilities through keep doors... why can my rune-etched axe connect with 4 guys on the battering ram when I'm behind a door? How can a magnet ability suck players through a solid object? For real.

We will do all this to ourselves and more given the chance. The only thing that can stop us from walking off that cliff is the developers. They need to predict the idiotic things that we will do, and they need to recognise the things that they failed to predict, and they need to fix them! Eg:

1) Make it faster to get to cap. People are bitching about not being able to play with each other. That's because we're all strung out in levels. People don't want to spend time "having fun" because they don't think it's the "real game" until they get to the end. Just let us all get there already so we can play together.
2) Make open RvR as accessible as scenarios. Yes, this means a really simple UI tool that pairs you up with other players that want to open RvR! Regardless of which character they're on, which region, or what they're currently doing.
3) Make it only possible to "Join All" when you enter the scenario queue, and fix your randomiser.
4) Before being allowed to queue for each scenario, make players run a single player once-off instance vs NPC bots that they can't beat unless they have a rudimentary understanding of the map.
5) Give bonuses for keep capture in particular areas in the lower tiers, to force players to run into each other more.
6) Nerf stupid magnet crap... limit the number of players who can be affected to, *maybe*, 3. Or just change the ability altogether, it's ridiculous.
7) Don't let abilities work through walls at all, it doesn't make any sense.

In summary Mythic, help us. We're stupid (but not as stupid as you if you don't help us).