Thursday, December 24, 2009

History lesson

Every so often the issue of the so-called "holy trinity" of MMORPG design makes its way around the place. Everyone's got some idea that if only everybody else would realise the wisdom of, the world would be a better place.

A couple of months ago I had an argument with a random chat person in Aion about the Holy Trinity system. His stance was that it is the simplest way to approach an RPG combat system, including actual design and also programming of the AI. This was apparently evidenced by [insert slew of MMO titles]. I said, no, it's not the simplest, and it's not intuitive. It's also not particularly fun. His retort was something along the lines of "Oh yeah? Name one game that doesn't use that system".

After climbing back onto my seat, I realised that this fellow had fairly much only ever played MMO's. Those of us who like to write about these things we call games are often armchair game designers. But it's pretty difficult to have any meaningful input on game design if you haven't played the important games in the genre.

It seems to me that there were two main parallels of evolution in the online RPG genre. People in the first stream played games like EverQuest, got hooked on WoW, and try the big budget MMO's that come out. These people write articles about how we can tweak the Holy Trinity to be more fun, and/or argue with people in general chat about how awesome it is.

The rest of us played Diablo 2.

Now, I realise that for those of you who never played Diablo 2 on Battle Net (important), it may be a bit late to get into. The thing looks a bit dated, doesn't have as many people playing it anymore, etc. Here is a little refresher course then so that you can see how the other side lived:

1) Enemy AI pretty much just goes for whoever it sees first. Only thing is, the shit is going to be flying from every which way so pretty much everyone has to be able to look after themselves. This is easy to design, easy to program, easy for players to understand, and is quite fun.

2) There are no healers. Everyone heals themselves with potions, but these don't help when you get hit too fast all at once.

3) Except when they do help. You even get potions that instantly restore all your health and mana. These are your get out of jail free cards. But they are hard to come by and you only hold so many. You do need them from time to time because that shit, that flies in so fast? It hits hard.

4) The game consists of 7 different classes, each one of which is useful to have in any group. Each one feels radically different to play. Many of them synergise quite well with each other. You would never sit around in a game waiting for any one class to show up.

However, at the same time, some do better at tanking. Some do better at damage. Some are a compromise between the two. But they are never extremes.

5) Did I mention the shit flying in fast? This isn't a game where you spend a minute grinding down a monster that's 2 levels above you. Your longest spell cooldown is about 1 second, and is often limited by how fast you can get your little sucker to animate each one. As fast as that shit be flyin' in, you are reigning all kinds of death down to take it out.

6) Most games are public games. Anyone can join a public game. Once they do, the enemies in the world get harder to kill. This makes it pretty much beneficial for you to take whoever just joined the game along with you, as it soon becomes quite tough to solo.

7) Unless you're playing in "hardcore" (one life only) mode, making mistakes isn't that big a deal. You don't have to restart the "raid" for mis-clicking a button. If somebody dies, it's usually not going to mess the whole team up.


Diablo 2 has sold millions of copies as a result of its fun, addictive gameplay and easily accessible multiplayer. Clearly the traditional Holy Trinity is not the only way to do things. But WoW was en even bigger hit for Blizzard, surely its gameplay is even more fun?

Well, no. There are many other reasons why WoW is the most financially successful game to date. The extra time and money spent to progress make it harder to stop playing. There are massive social elements available. There's the more immersive, open world to explore. The graphics are better, including the shift to 3D. There were a lot more people with the internet in 2004 than there were in 2000.

But gameplay? Before 'thinking outside the box' to dissect and reassemble the Holy Trinity, it's worth just taking a little history lesson (ironically, it's still a lesson brought to the masses by Blizzard, which should at least make it palatable to those that need it most).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Moving in with the gf's parents

Ha ha, yeah... My girlfriend and I are getting old (28) and want to buy a house sometime soon. It ain't going to happen unless we save a deposit, so long story short, we are going to be moving back to her parents place (in the outer rim) to save money for a year. Ordinarily I would have been against the idea, but there was potential for something that pushed me over the line:


My girlfriend has a younger brother (21) who still lives at home and he loves video games and so does his girlfriend. He's never actually had a computer powerful enough to play anything other than Farmville, but luckily I have two. I've been buying up a bunch of Steam specials (and then some) in preparation for the LANage. Dawn of War and Company of Heroes could be good. I might even dig up Diablo 2 (love that game).

I also want to introduce him to the MMO world, but I'm not sure which one to show him first. He's still studying for his diploma, so I don't want to corrupt his free time too much. WoW is definitely out of the question. There is also the problem that my second computer is 5 years old and can't run much above Guild Wars, CoH or WoW. I was thinking Guild Wars because I love that game, but it seems to be slowly dying at the moment. I also have 1800+ hours on it and have played through all it's content a few times over. It would be fun for him, but not so much for me. My other thought was Wizard 101. He plays Magic the Gathering with his mates and Pokemon on his DS. Wizard 101 seems like a good combination of the two and should run on my old computer. It's also cheap in comparison to most MMOs. I reviewed Wizard 101 when it was first released and thought it was an excellently designed game. My only issues were the slow battles and repetitive card animations. These aren't exactly horribly bad points, so I'll most likely be firing it back up again just after Christmas (when the move happens).

In the mean time, I'll keep enjoying Torchlight and the other 10 Steam specials I've purchased over the last week. I swear, I have a weakness for game specials...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Syncaine post of the week

WoW has recently added a feature that allows people to be randomly paired to go and do instances, regardless of where they are on the map or even what server they are on. This removes the ridiculous several-hour wait to get a group together so that people can actually go and have fun. Coming from someone who would usually take any opportunity to slam WoW for its evil design decisions, I can tell you, this is one of the most wonderful features that has ever been added to an MMO. And the mast majority of people are loving it.

Syncaine is upset by this. I'm not really sure why I'm surprised.

Fortunately I don't have to construct a response - here's one I prepared earlier.

Oh, he also managed to make the following ridiculous assertion:

"a sharp reminder that the WoW crowd is very different from the MMO crowd"

Riiiight. Have fun back in Darkfall with the 'real' MMO players then. Tell them both I said hello.

Keen post of the week

Keen's QQ of the week is brought to you by Star Trek Online.

Keen is upset because the recently announced Klingon faction is not a separate playable faction, but is more akin to Monster Play from LotRO. As you know, I am bound by my sacred duty to rebutt ridiculous blog posts to make comment.

"Why isn’t it just another faction? Why does it have to be a gimmicky “additional advancement path” or whatever they’re calling it? Why can’t we have two sides struggling in a war that are balanced and able to play and progress the same? I envisioned two fully fleshed out sides interacting with each other in battles, economics, and more."

1) Because that would make the game take twice as long to make?
2) There has been no open world faction-based PvP game yet released that actually meets those criteria - it is kind of difficult to pull off, if you've been paying much attention.
3) Assuming that they decided against a full extra faction at launch for the above 2 reasons, isn't it actually quite nice of them to implement Klingons anyway? Must all gift horses be looked in the mouth? (Answer if you're a whiny MMO blogger - yes).
3) No Klingon worth his forehead furrows is going to progress by killing a bunch of lame rats. Klingons progressing through PvP sounds like it fits right in with the lore to me. +50 XP every time you teabag an opponent.

"The PvP is going to be pushed off into tiny little corners of the map"

1) Have you ever actually watched an episode of Star Trek?

"So much talk about the scenarios and “maps” and I have yet to hear about flying around in space in any open-world sort of way. Is it all just instanced areas/missions without any ability to randomly come across another ship and do battle?.... you’ll just “warp speed” to the PvP areas and “warp speed” out when you’re done"

1) People don't like being ganked
2) Only 15 year olds with an inferiority complex enjoy ganking unprepared, underlevelled, undergeared targets
3) Scenarios where you can just jump in and jump out whenever you like are great fun, and the vast majority of the people appreciate the convenience.
4) Warping in and out of missions fits right in with the lore.

"Lots of preorder rewards being talked about from various places, but until these little (not so little) details get cleared up I’m not paying a dime."

Lies - after Keen decides that Allod's online fails for whatever reason, he'll play it, fall in love with it, slam everyone who's not playing it, start to identify some problems with it, rage at it, quit it, and then slam everyone who's still playing it. Within the space of about 2 months. The circle of life continues.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Allods beta-key fail

I got an email a few days ago saying I had been accepted into the Allods beta:

I have to admit, I was a little interested after reading this post from Tesh and seeing this video from Chappo. So I logged into the site and attached the beta key to my login:

Now all that was left was to download the game and play..

3 hours later, install game...



I'm not really sure why, but it doesn't let me log in using the account I signed up for. It's not the login or password, because I can log into the Allods website with them. I tried creating a new account and attaching the beta key to that, but it just says the beta key is already in use (obviously). Anyone else having the same problem?

I'm happy to put this down to user error if someone tells me what I did wrong, but I swear I took the logical path?!?...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

5,000 hours

Only Tobold can say whether spending 5,000 hours playing WoW was the most cost efficient way to have fun during his leisure time over the last 5 years. We will have to take him at his word when he tells us that such a length of time has not had long term ramifications on his social relationships and his health.

But I don't think that this is good advice for the majority of people. The majority who have clocked up that amount of time on a single game have moved long past the point where they are having real 'fun' and are simply addicted.

Further, I am amused by Tobold's comparison of WoW and Dragon Age. His thesis seems to be that:

time taken = fun had

I would think it would be more valid to say:

time taken - time spent on repetitive seeming tasks = fun had

Of course, this depends on what seems overly repetitive to the individual. For me, the "fun had" side of the equation for a game like WoW is well into the negative. For Tobold, it's well into the positive.

I've never seen a picture of Tobold, but I am struck by the image of him running ceaselessly in a giant hamster wheel, tongue gleefully hanging out to one side. A big red button may be pressed that sometimes dispenses cheese. The frequency of cheese dispensation is inversely proportional to the number of cheese morsels that have been dolled out to date. Bemused scientists look on from the sidelines making notes in their clipboards, wondering whether this beast of epic endurance will ever tire of their test.