Monday, May 25, 2009

Industry insiders reveal how to fail at game design

Thanks to Sente for linking to this piece by Sanya Weathers. Basically, Sanya interviewed a bunch of MMO industry vets who all pretty much say that players don't *want* story in their quests, players don't even want quest descriptions, players only want to Kill Ten Rats (TM)

I just have to chime in with my 2 cents here.

If you force players to grind for hours on end to reach the achievements that they so heartily desire, of course they're going to try and short-cut that as much as possible.


Minimizee the freaking grind? Stop allowing your business model to dictate your game design? Oh no, knowledgeable industry insiders keep using the same old business model and instead blame it all on the players. As though they're not the exact same demographic that also like to play single player RPG's, in which story is king and if you skip the quest text you may as well uninstall the game.

In summary:

Step 1) Take out grind.
Step 2) Replace with gameplay (various challenge levels, twitch-based or strategical or a combination) and story.
Step 3) Profit.

A handy by-product of this is that without the grind, friends who get the game at different times can actually play with each other. What an exciting age of game design that would be.

Or, you could continue to go with the tried and tested "AAA" MMO strategy:

Step 1) Copy WoW
Step 2) ???
Step 3) Close up shop within a year from release because nobody is playing

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The legend of Bartle continues

After my recent rant about Richard Bartle, I didn't think my anti-Bartle-ire would be stirred again so soon. But it was.

Dr Bartle, Lord Professor Extraordinaire of MMO-Diku-MUD-backgammon-checkers game design, has descended once more from the mountain to enlighten us with his words of wisdom.

This time, he's telling us all about the wonders of Stranglethorn Vale. This is one of the more widely disliked zones in WoW. I'm not even going to do a blow by blow, as Syp and Scott have already got that covered.

I just want to put it out there. Richard Bartle knows squat about game design. Of course there is the distinct possibility that he actually knows ALL about game design, but since we're not one of the

"20 people in the world right now to whom this makes the kind of sense it makes to me"

us mere mortals could not possibly understand.

"I don't know if I've succeeded in any of this. However, I do know that if anyone tells me MMO design isn't an art form, I will strongly disagree."

Oh, it's an art-form my friend. You're just not an artist.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I would play if...

Syp's got a bit of a meme thingy going on, which I couldn't resist. Basically you just state what would make you play a certain MMORPG. Here is my list:
  • I would play EverQuest 2 if the only computer I owned was seven years old. It would also have to lose the sub fee.
  • I would play Eve Online (again) if the combat was a little more exciting.
  • I would play World of Warcraft (again) if... give me a sec... If for some reason my internal organs failed and the only way I could survive was to be linked up to a machine that required me to play WoW.
  • I would play City of Heroes if the instancing didn't seem so dull and repetitive. Better PvP would also be nice.
  • I would play Runescape if I was blind.
  • I would play Star Wars Galaxies if it didn't have that old dusty feel to it. I'm worried my Star Wars fantasy world will be destroyed by trying it. Better to wait for SW:ToR me thinks.
  • I would play Dungeons and Dragons Online if it didn't have a sub fee or the sub fee was cheaper.
  • I would play Wizard 101 (again) if combat was a little more fast paced and the animations didn't cause epilepsy.
  • I would play Age of Conan if they paid me.
  • I would play Darkfall if... well, maybe when it's had another year or two to bake in the design oven.
  • I would play Warhammer Online (again) if it stopped feeling like a WoW clone with a tenth of the polish.
  • I would play Guild Wars until Guild Wars 2 came out (I'd probably still play it).
  • I would play LotRO (again) if it was a tad more polished and had serious PvP.
  • I would play Free Realms if I was tripping on acid.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

NCSoft gives finger to own players

So, in case you've missed the news - City of Heroes are going to "fix" the rampant power-leveling that the new Mission Architect system has generated. Thanks to Syp for pointing to the City of Heroes forums (the thread is currently 330 PAGES long):

"Players that have abused the reward system egregiously may lose benefits they have gained - leading up to and perhaps including losing access to the characters power-leveled in this fashion."

I assume this means that they are threatening to roll back the XP gained through the MA system.

I'm trying really hard, but I can't think of a community relations f--- up of this magnitude in an MMO, ever.


1) If they were doing this a day after the release of MA (when the exploits started) then I'd understand. Why wait 3 weeks?

2) If this was not an intended feature, their QA team are a little slow for not finding it given that the community found it within 24 hours, and their community managers (who are supposed to read the forums and tell you what's going on) are hopeless for not passing the message on sooner, OR possibly the developers are stupid, for not listening to either of them. By rolling everything back, you're admitting that a good portion of your team are completely useless.

3) Why did they think subscriber numbers resurged when the Mission Architect was released? Was it because of all the awesomely written and well thought-out player-made missions they thought were being created? (99% of them are pure drivel)

4) If people choose to power-level through MA, they obviously think that farming large groups of mobs in a static area is far superior to all the landscape/scenery design, story-telling/plot, and myriad of enemies that the developer team gave to the players. Basically, the players are saying to the developers, screw all that crap you made, we'd rather eat these juicy balls of XP. To which the developers have replied, no, suck on this, we're going to make you grind through that crap whether you like it or not! Yes, let's punish our players for our idiocy! That should make them give us more money!

5) Perhaps this is just a threat. Maybe their data-mining has no practical way of telling how such a large number of people gained their levels. If so, this is probably an even stupider move, since they are then sacrificing their reputation for even less gain than before.

Fortunately my NCSoft fanboy-ism is still intact because I'm hanging out for Guild Wars 2 (and to a much lesser extent, Aion). However, if they actually carry through on this threat, they've sure as s--- lost 2 CoX subscriptions from my household, and I'm sure there will be many, many more.

For those frantically downloading the new patch to check their characters, my level 35 almost-exclusively-power-leveled blaster has not yet been affected. I imagine we'll find out exactly what's in store in a few days (after the CoX guys have dug themselves a bomb shelter somewhere).

Seriously, is there an IQ test that you have to fail to become an MMO developer?


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Redesigning public quests

Lets just pretend I was a games designer for a big time MMO company (he he):

*boss walk in*

Boss: "Public Quests are the new rave Crimson. I want you to add them to our MMO, but do a better job than our competition... your ass is on the line!!"

Me: "Yes Mr. Boss sir..."

*scrambles for design pad and epic pen of inspiration*


What is a public quest?

A public quest is an open world event with a trigger, where one or more players can participate to gain phat lewtz. Problems with existing implementation are:
  • Can feel repetitive and grindy
  • Difficulty doesn't scale
  • Requires other people to be in the area (static locations)
  • Don't always get desired reward
  • Contribution is difficult to measure
  • Event always plays out the same
Possible Solutions:
  • Only one public quest is active at one time per main map
  • Have it occur at a random location on the map each time. The mini map could flash the location of where it is starting
  • NPCs in the area react and interact with the PQ when it starts (i.e. villagers run form a dragon or try to slay it)
  • Difficulty scales with the amount of people involved
  • Players are rewarded for early participation
  • Reward system based on 'PQ tokens', which can be exchanged for items
Nice to haves:
  • Have other players control the giant monster(s) involved in the PQ. They have objectives to complete, and boundaries etc. If the objectives are successfully completed (i.e. burn village), they get rewarded
  • Have quests spawn from the aftermath of a public quest. For example, players can help to put out fires and rebuild a village that has been burned by collecting wood/stone etc...
  • Make the PQ move around the map until players complete it
Ahhh who am I kidding, this is the MMO industry. Designers don't make it to the top by innovating, they get there by copying.

*boss walks in*

Boss: "Where are my ideas Crimson?"

Me: "Ahh... ummm... I suggest we copy WAR's implementation of PQs, but we make the bad guys more cartoony with huge shoulder pads like in WoW?"

Boss: "I love it!!! Crimson, you have lead designer written all over you! Good work!"

*boss leaves*


Sad but true...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stay awhile, and listen...

So, who remembers Deckard Cain? Wizened old fellow choc-full of wisdom from ages passed... nice at identifying items in a pinch. Seems like he'd be practically brimming with mage-ish goodness that would make him fairly useful in a fight, what with being the last of the Horadrim and all.

Until, that is, we see that he has been enslaved by some level 2 XP-fodder when a bunch of scrub demons invade the town. Turns out that Cain, for all the hot air he blew out, clearly was not the awesome old Gandalf figure that we assumed he would be.

So, anyway, Richard Bartle.

Richard Bartle, like, totally came up with the first MUD or something. And I'm sure that everyone on the development team for early MMO's such as Everquest and Ultima Online actually played... hmmm, really?

MUDs are, honestly, pretty awful games. I played one once a few years ago when I was really bored. I don't know ANYone who actually played one during the "glory days" of which Bartle is so fond of pontificating over, you know, when those 75 people who played MUDs were totally pioneering the modern day MMO and everything. Yes, you can find older bloggers around the place who played them, but, clearly, they were not mainstream games.

Judging from the amazing way that modern MMO developers completely ignore developments to the genre made by anyone except for WoW, I can only assume that their design 'research' consists of raiding WoW 5 nights a week. So I kind of find it hard to believe that the developers of, say, Everquest, sat down and played MUDs and became influenced by their awesome gameplay.

Ever heard of parallel evolution? This is where two different species evolve the same trait, presumably because it seems like a useful trait to have. My theory - of course I have no proof - is that these completely retarded modern day MMO game mechanics actually evolved twice, independently... first, with Richard Bartle and his cohort of 12 people who played on MUD1, and years later, with the pioneering graphical MMO's.

The text MUDs needed gameplay that was slow due to their text-based nature, and grindy carrot-on-a-stick-ness because it was easier than making a strategical combat system. Early graphical MMO's needed slow gameplay, I assume, due to server limitations with such a giant number of people connected to them (unlike MUDs, which nobody played). And they needed grindy gameplay so that people would continue giving them monthly fees (which I am assuming after doing no research that MUDs didn't have, because, well, lol if they did).

Different reasons, same outcome... crummy gameplay.

So, I'm not sure why we're giving Dr Bartle all the credit here.

But, somebody will probably post some complete history of MUD-ness here and attempt to prove me wrong. To this I say.... whatever. *Even if we were* to give him all the credit... what are we giving him credit for? Shouldn't he be under a rock somewhere hiding from our collective wrath? If MUD1 DID cause all that came after, we have Richard Bartle to congratulate for a bunch of retarded soul-sucking gameplay. I mean, Achiever/Explorer/Socializer/Killer.... did he ever hear of actual gameplay?

There are people around the place who vehemently defend stuff that Richard Bartle says. They seem to attribute a lot to that first MUD. I don't get it.