Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mission Architect woes

I'd been really looking forward to the release of the City of Heroes/Villains mission architect update, but since it's release I've started to get a bit worried. Two days ago I joined a mission team with my hero defender and the leader took us through a mission he had designed specifically for one purpose, farming XP. It didn't take me long to figure what was going on, as the mission had no plot or story line and the enemy groups were designed to be practically useless. It took less than 15 minutes to complete the mission with a team of 8 and in that time I gained three levels with my level 27 character (granted I was on double XP). Now if I had of been doing non MA missions, it would have taken 2-4 hours to get those three levels.

I'm not a big fan of grinding, so I often look for the easy path, but only so far as it doesn't ruin the gaming experience for myself or others. This definitely seems like an exploit to me.

For a long time now I've been asking for tools to allow MMO gamers to build their own content, but the reality doesn't seem to be quiet what I had in mind. Mission Architect has a few fundamental flaws. Players can easily build 'XP farm' type missions. If their mission gets taken down (reported for content), they can build another one in minutes. Also now that there is an easy way to get missions, why would players actually leave the mission architect complex? What happens to the rest of the game content and story arc? Surely the game designers/devs saw this coming...

History has taught us that MMO players will always abuse any power they are given. It seems odd that NCSoft would overlook such an obvious exploit. Either way, update 14 was meant to enhance the CoX gaming experience, but I fear it may be doing the opposite.


Ysharros said...

Ah, that's poo. The weird thing is, when you're alone (or maybe it's just the MA missions I've been doing), the xp is worse than doing missions "outside" -- in fact, the xp pretty much sucks.

I figured that was intentional, since ticket drops are generally good and buying stuff with tickets (especially enhancements) is a damn sight cheaper for me than using money. Then again, I gather most of the long-time players are sitting on millions and millions of influence... which is another thing I don't get. I'm ~20 and I'm lucky to have 40-50k inf; it'd probably be ~100k inf if I weren't in SG mode all the time, but still, it's not millions. I guess this is another one of the mature game effects -- if you're 50 and have been for 3+ years, you're probably sitting on a pretty big pile of cash.

I did come across a badge farming mission that was not only dull, it was just WAY obvious farmage. Made me feel unclean - I don't like farming in general, and I don't like exploiting game systems, which is what this kind of thing always feels like.

On the other hand, there are some really *fun* missions out there too. Hopefully they'll come up with better ways of classifying and sorting these missions or, yes, we're going to end up with wodges of crap farming missions, the Dev/Guest/Best of selections, and the good offerings by thousands of other players will just sink to the bottom and never get played. (Which is already largely the case.)

Crimson Starfire said...

What baffles me is how they didn't see this happening.

Hmmm... give players the ability to create their own missions... nope can't see it being used for evil purposes like farming... approved!

It just doesn't make sense.

Your right though Ysh, there are heaps of awesome well crafted missions that players have gone to a lot of work to create. Sadly they will go by unnoticed, thanks to the farming runs :(

Anton said...

Strange...Sounds like they should have built this as a separate experience outside of the game. Perhaps on special servers where you either use characters made specifically for those servers, or where you can import one of your characters from another server.

Another way they might have pulled it off better is to award a different kind of points to players, and not give them points based on kills or quests, but based on approval ratings by other players. It could be a special kind of points like "Reputation with other Players" or something of that nature. Then have each player rate each other anonymously after the run somehow. There could be special rewards to players who achieve a certain level of "Reputation with other Players," and that would encourage players to try to make fun adventures, and there would be no reward for experience points at all to mess up a game that has been doing so well for such a long amount of time.

Tesh said...

What if it actually *is* behaving as expected?

Could this be a not-so-subtle way to let players accelerate their grind if they feel like it?

Once again, how is *someone else's* pace of progress through the XP curve affecting *your* gaming experience? I can see it potentially being a problem with open world PvP gankage, but is CoX PvP regulated? (I've never played it.)

Lars said...

Well, I think they did anticipate it. I'm pretty certain custom enemies, even minions, are tougher than similar enemies in the regular areas. They feel tougher to me at any rate. And since you have no control over placement of mobs you can't box them in helplessly and exploit geometry, etc.

I'm not sure how the farming missions are designed. Do they involve auto exemplaring? I noticed I could join a mission with level 40+ opponents at level 18 and I was automatically scaled up to the appropriate level. Maybe there's something awry with that mechanic?

At any rate, I suppose it was inevitable that some people would find a way to exploit the system. I just hope they don't nerf XP in MA missions to oblivion because I think its a great way to have fun AND level.

Crimson Starfire said...

I doubt this is what NCSoft had in mind for the MA Update. You can get a character from 1-50 in around 6 hours at the moment. It used to take months. In the chat last night, there where players saying they would be taking time off work to get a few more level 50 characters. Everyone is trying to make the most of the easy XP before they nerf it, and yes they will definitely be nerfing it. I'm just interested to know how the nerf will effect the mission architect in general.

In answer to your question, it's affecting my gaming experience because no one wants to actually do anything but farm XP at the moment. It's very hard to get a team together to do ordinary missions. What's the point of actually doing ordinary missions now anyway? All they do is slow your leveling progress.

The mission I played scaled everyone up to level 48 and we fought against a bunch of level 53 Aliens. The XP gain per kill depended on my level, but it around 2700 for a level 27 character (level times a thousand). The enemy groups were well spaced and there were around 8-10 per group. Each enemy group dropped in about 10 seconds and we were moving from group to group in about 5. When I went into the mission I had 20K inf to my name. When I left 15mins later I was three levels higher and had 1.5 million inf to my name. Something is definitely wrong...

Melf_Himself said...

I think you're all missing the point. Fortunately, I am here to enlighten everybody!

a) If people would rather play the MA missions and farm XP, it means there is something really wrong with the game design. In this case, specifically the gameplay and storyline are not interesting enough in their own right compared to the happy joys that can be gotten from levelling up. This is not something that can be fixed in the current game, but developers making new games should always be asking themselves.... "if we give people the chance to skip to the end of the game, will most people take it?" If the answer is yes, congratulations you've made another Diku MMO 1.0.

b) It's almost undoubtedly not 'working as intended', as the subscription model relies on keeping people on the levelling treadmill as long as possible.

c) I hate city of heroes the first time I played it (felt too grindy), but I re-subscribed over the Easter weekend to level up with Crimson and some friends, and the fast in-flow of new and cool super powers has got me temporarily hooked. If only I found the combat and storyline interesting / accessible, then I'd be a very happy camper.

Crimson Starfire said...

Maybe you're right. maybe they are just adding a super highway to the end game. Since I haven't been to the end game yet, I have no idea if it's any good. If it is where the majority of content lies, then I'm glad they've added the highway.

adingworld said...

There is really no "end game" in City of Heroes/Villains. You have a few strike/task forces that you need to be high level for and it is preferable to be at max level for the Hamidon and Rikti mothership raids.

But that is it. The real game is what you experience through leveling.

The only reason to farm is really to get better IO sets to try to make the ultimate "badass" character, or just "win" the game by reaching max level.

MA just reduced the grind for those that have that as their main focus.

The whole farming thing really started once they introduced more "real loot" with crafting/recipes, IO sets etc. The way people inclined to farm have done it has just changed over time as features changed in the game to go for what is most efficient right now.

But as Ysh says, the xp is not really better with a comparable mission set up, since it does not use up the patrol xp, it should just be the normal xp gain. If it would be the case that the patrol xp bonus is received, then there is a bug since the patrol bonus does not decrease other than by death (consuming the xp debt).

I have not had trouble with finding non-farming teams, but I have mainly been teaming with people I know after I14 and I do have a "no blinds, no farming" text description for my characters for the team search.
Maybe there is a difference between Euro and US servers also, I don't know.

@Ysh: at level 20 there is no drawback being in SG mode, that only starts to happen at level 25+.

Ticket rewards are quite good for normal leveling and since you always can get the highest enhancement level available to you it is a much smoother improvement curve than it was before.
If you do enough MA missions and do not care about having the ultimate enhancements and enjoy the ride, there is not much use for the cash.

Before MA and inventions/IO, cash stopped to be a problem around level 30-35. With the inventions/IO that level was lowered a bit as long as you did not try to get IO sets and only used regular enhancements for the first 25-30 levels.

Now I do not think cash is ever going to be a problem assuming a bit of time in MA missions, unless you are into the ├╝ber enhancements.

Melf_Himself said...

For me it's not about farming so I can buy enhancements, it's about getting XP so I can test out all the cool powers that I'm interested in.

Before the MA came along, I didn't find that I was getting new skills that I enjoyed frequently enough for me to be enjoying the game overall - but now I am.

It's not about being the most badass I can be, it's about being free to try out different options. If there was a way to just roll a max level character and mess around with various builds, I'd be spending my time doing that.

mbp said...

In principle I have no problem with developers adding a "Super Highway" (thanks Crimson) to the end game. If that's what folks want to do then let them do it. Of course like Melf I would hope there would be enough interesting stuff in the game to make it worthwhile to play through normally.

User made mission seem too arbitrary a way of doing it though. Perhaps you actually wanted to experience those three levels you leaped and now you have lost that chance through accidentally joining the wrong mission.

adingworld said...

You can play a large part of the content, user-created or not, at pretty much anytime.

User-created missions can always be played at any level and how many times you want.

Regular missions can be played through the Ouroboros system, if you have outleveled it. Not every single mission, but a fair amount of the more significant content.
You will not get xp if it is lower level and your powerset/level will be adjusted to that of the mission, but it is still possible.

And you can set up various additional constraints/restrictions to add more challenge to them.

You would have to be level 25+ to use it though.

And I was wrong to say that there is not really any "end game" - with Mission Architect it has sort of become almost limitless. Still limited by the basic mechanics the missions are ruled by, but still potentially new and sometimes even good content for a long time.

mbp said...

Have you seen the article by Joe Morrisey over on Gamasutra about how Paragon police user created missions: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3995/mission_architect_how_are_you_.php

They seem to be putting a huge amount of effort into making sure folks don't manage to sneak dirty words into the missions but there is no mention of monitoring for game breaking stuff at all.

Longasc said...

I mentioned it on Tesh's blog already that people did the same in Guild Wars. Sorrow's Furnace was farmed to death with the "gear trick". This trick turned the whole zone into a big farm fest, and I took a quite longish break after that.

It is quite interesting that people will ALWAYS abuse a flaw for some kind of material profit, even if they bore themselves to hell with it.

Tesh asks an interesting question. I guess I would rather join in in the self-destructive fun-destroying short grind to max level in a few hours rather than allowing myself to fall behind everyone else.

Melf_Himself said...

The thing about the MA exploiting isn't that it bores us to hell. I love my bar going "ding" all the time, because I know when I go back to town I'm going to have a whole bunch of new powers to play with.

The boring bit is then when I go back to the regular game :/

When developers learn to divorce their business model from their game design, we won't see these kinds of problems (because people will stop putting grind in games).

On a related note, the devs seem to have pulled a large number of the farming missions, and until the next wave come out, the XP has dwindled quite a bit.

(I don't know why they don't just fix the major problem, which is that players creating missions seem to have found a couple of loopholes that allow them to make the mobs all max-level bosses... I say loopholes because it's not something readily apparent from using the MA interface, you have to do some weird tricks)

Anonymous said...

One thing about City of Heroes that has always confused me (I'm being sincere, and please excuse the ignorance) is why people care so much about what others are doing.

I'm paying $15/month to Roleplay with a group of authors who test their characters in the game before placing them in their short stories, novels, and scripts.

We run missions, but we spend a lot of time just standing around and talking. We pay $15/month (the max anyone pays to play the game) so why should ANYONE care what we're doing?

If there are people who just want to get to level 50, let them. How does it affect other players? Again, I'm asking more than I'm defending. If you have an answer that doesn't involve me being a nazi, I'm all game to hear it.

So there's suddenly 1000 more people at level 50 than before. If not for the Mission Architect, half my crew was switching to Champions as soon as it came out.

Now that we can not only build our characters, but build the environments and experiences,we love it. So there's fewer people on the street. Fine. So there's more people in Eden or Grandeville, fine. Why should you have any say about what another woman does with her character if she's paying at least as much as you are to play the game?

Why should the Devs? If I can make more exciting content than Shane Hensley who got paid to do it, then that's not my problem. That's his shortcoming.

Someone please explain the "play as the devs intended" law that led to nerfing fire/fire tankers, nerfing villains so controllers and defenders could solo (oops, wait a minute, defenders were never meant to solo...did the devs make game changes to suit players who wanted to do something unintended?), and that leads to public outcry about a fun addition that makes the game fun for powergamers, roleplayers, PvPers, and people who don't want to play Mercy Island anymore because they've done it 23 times already.

Crimson Starfire said...

Since the release of Mission Architect, CoX has actually become quite boring for me. It's difficult to find a team that isn't AE farming between the levels of 25 - 45. I probably shouldn't complain, but it seems as though the challenge has been removed from the game. It's like turning god mode on in Doom 2 (IDKFA). Its fun for the first hour or so, but then the game gets boring because everything is too easy. There is no challenge.

Melf has commented that he likes being able to power level so that he can test out a bunch of powers. I agree with that statement, but once you've used the powers for the 100th time on the same mob of bosses in an AE farm, they tend to lose their shine.

You asked the question:

"Why do people care so much about what others are doing?"

In an MMO, the actions of others will always effect you. It may only be in a small way, but sometimes they can have a large effect. In the case of Mission Architect, it's now harder to find a non farming group and salvage items have lost their worth on the Auction House. Since AE tickets can be exchanged for salvage items, ticket farmers are cashing in on selling valuable salvage. This reduces the net worth of everything. To some this is a good thing, but to others who don't want to ticket farm they can no longer use the Auction House as a means of income.

If all you want to do is use CoX to role play for story writing, then I don't think you have anything to worry about. However, if you want to play the game 'as the devs intended it', then you may having a few issues at the moment.

"Why should you have any say about what another woman does with her character if she's paying at least as much as you are to play the game?"

You shouldn't, but it's crucial that the devs insure that entertainment of some doesn't diminish the entertainment of others. In my opinion, Mission Architect is doing exactly that.

"Someone please explain the "play as the devs intended" law that led to nerfing fire/fire tankers... ?"

Builds get nerfed in MMOs all the time and it's usually because the balance needs to be maintained. If one build becomes significantly more powerful than all the others (i.e. fire/fire tankers), then something must be done or else you lose balance and the game becomes less challenging. Everyone plays the most powerful builds and you end up with a bunch of over powered groups that can't die and can destroy enemy mobs effortlessly. The only challenge left in the game is the grind itself. It's a sad day when that happens.

Melf_Himself said...

You've got the point backwards I think, anonymous. We tend to do a lot of pointing out of design flaws in games on this blog.

If the majority of the players in CoX are content to 'farm' XP in MA runs then it's clear that they find this more desirable to do then the 'traditional' play through of the story, with slower leveling up.

We hope that future MMO designers can point to stuff like this and say hey, that's not right. We can make better games by doing XYZ. Then, hopefully such games will be made and we'll be too busy playing them to bitch about them on the blog ^^

Of course, there are some people who do care what others are doing. It is human nature to be competitive. Having a level 50 character is one of the more difficult things to do in this game, therefore they wish to achieve this goal to make themselves feel good... and I'm no psychologist, but the more other people who have achieved the same goal as you, I suppose the less special it feels.

I don't really care too much about that like I said, since I tend to set my own goals in game rather than watching what some little number tells me. However, there's not denying that there are a lot of people that do care (they may be referred to loosely as 'achievement whores').

Melf_Himself said...

I agree with everything that Crimson said, except for the part about God mode.

IDKFA is "Keys, full ammo"

IDDQD is God mode. n00b.

Crimson Starfire said...

Oh yeah...

I must be losing touch with my old games. Better dig em up and complete them again for the 51th time. Good times...