Saturday, December 20, 2008

Crimson's 2009 game list

There are a lot of fantastic titles scheduled for release in 2009 and I for one can't wait to play them all. If I had to narrow my list down to five titles that I'm most excited about, it would look like this:

1. Guild Wars 2
Anyone that reads this blog could have guessed that this was going to be my number one most anticipated game. I'm so pumped for this game that this blog will most likely become a shrine to GW2 once it is released. Although there hasn't been an official release date announced yet, I'm confident that GW2 will arrive in 2009. I don't think NCSoft or ArenaNet can last another year without giving GW2 the light of day. I for one can't wait to welcome the new messiah of MMO gaming ;)

2. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Bioware has always made great games, and I know that TOR will be great as well. My only concern is this TOR will launch with EA's stench all over it's business model.
If any game can get my girlfriend interested in MMOs, it will be this one. I hope it doesn't release around the same time as GW2, because I may be 'forced' to play for the gf factor alone ;)

3. Diablo 3
I'm still drooling from viewing the trailer of D3. I know it's not an MMO, but I was a huge (and I mean huge) fan of Diablo 2. It does concern me a little bit that the game will not support LAN play, as D2 LAN parties were always a favorite of mine.
I have a feeling that Blizzard are saving their D3 trump card for the release of GW2 and TOR, so expect to see it in 2009.

4. Aion
If Aion has the gameplay to back up it's amazing looks and list of features, it will do extremely well. Openedge believes that Aion will not be overly successful in the Western markets because of the Anime factor and I'm inclined to agree with him. Won't stop me from playing it though. The character customization technology looks very cool and lets face it, who wouldn't want wings for their character?

5. Jumpgate Evolution
I've got a soft spot for sci-fi games. I enjoyed Eve up to a point, but I wished it was more like Freelancer. JE looks like it might just deliver on my expectations for a sci-fi MMO. I've signed up for the beta, and look forward to firing dual tachyon canons across the hull of some unsuspecting alien battleship ;)

So yeah that's my list. If by some bizarre and cruel twist of fate all five of these games were launched on the same day, you can clearly see my install and play order. Not sure if I would survive the day though... MMO pleasure overload...

I'd be interested to know what other people's top 5 most anticipated games for 2009 are?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gaming download revolution!

I used to always purchase my games over the counter. Whenever I would go shopping at the mall with my girlfriend, I used to disappear and she would always find me at the Electronics Boutique. It was my favorite shop in the world. That was until the day they screwed me over with Warhammer Online. Not only did EB charge $25 more for the retail version of the game than the digital download, they also messed up my pre-order causing me to miss out on the beta. Their customer service went something along the lines of:

"Sorry buddy, must of made a computer error. Would you like to pre-order WotLK now?"

I couldn't believe the guy would try and sell me another pre-order after he botched the last one (me not liking WoW didn't help). I was so furious that I vowed never to walk into their store again. On a side note, I also considered inventing the poisonous flaming shuriken and throwing it between the eyes of the try-hard nerd wannabee EB sales assistant. Luckily it didn't come to that... Unfortunately for me though EB has a monopoly in Australia, and if you don't buy your games through them, you don't buy games at all (another reason to hate them).

So naturally I turned to purchasing and obtaining games online. My first digital game purchase was the Orange Box for $30 US through Steam. I was so pleased with the service that I later bought Overlord for $10 and Left 4 Dead for $50 US. I'm telling you, the guys at Steam have got it all worked out. Their games are cheaper than the retail counterparts and they cleverly wrap the DRM software into the Steam service so that the player is never bothered by it. It's definitely the future of game sales.

Unfortunately Steam doesn't cover all the games I like to play, so I also checked out Impulse and Gog. Impulse had a nice little sale over the weekend where I picked up Space Rangers 2 for $4 US. Awesome game for the sale price btw. Reminded me of my old school days of Frontier Elite II.

Anyway, for the price of WAR and a one month's subscription, I have been able to buy these awesome games:
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Half Life 2 (including Episode 1 and 2)
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Portal
  • Overlord
  • Space Rangers 2
I've had more fun playing these than I did WAR and I didn't have to deal with hopeless sales staff or even leave my house. Naturally there is the overhead of the download itself, but if you have a decent net connection, it's not really a problem.

I don't think I'll ever buy another game over the counter, unless it's for a console which doesn't support online purchase (like the DS). If you haven't already, I recommend joining the digital download revolution!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Taking a chapter from the FPS book

Here's my game pitch:

Take Team Fortress 2 and swap all the classes for classic fantasy style classes (i.e. sorcerer, rogue, priest etc.). Add some PvE with a killer story line and set it in a Tolkien style universe. You now have yourself one hell of an awesome MMO.

Why you ask?

These are the following attributes that TF2 brings to the table, that MMORPGs have been failing to do for years:
  • Excellent physics engine
  • Balanced classes (and a large variety)
  • Large scale battles up 32 vs 32
  • Fast paced and stable combat
  • New items are obtained through achievement unlocks
  • Automatic battle balancing
  • The ability to call for healing when you need it ("Medic!")
  • Fun and enjoyable PvP with a very low learning curve
  • The ability to choose your own server at will
  • A friends list independent of the game
  • Can view statistics and achievements of yourself and others online
  • User created PvP maps
This is where I ask:

If an FPS can have all these features then why can't an MMORPG?

Is it because it's not feasible? If no, then why not?

Should these features not apply to MMORPG? Again... why not?

I believe that if an existing MMORPG implemented only three features from the above list, it would do extremely well. I worry that today's MMO game companies aren't looking outside the square when designing their games. All they want to do is make a better WoW clone. Well maybe it's about time they took a chapter from of the FPS book...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MMO character name recycling

One of the most annoying things about starting a new character in an MMO is trying to pick a name that isn't taken. All the best names always go in the first hour of the MMO game being released, and then everyone after that gets stiffed. I'm usually always left making characters with an obscurely spelt variation of the name I wanted, or have to pick some less attractive name. When I created my second character on Guild Wars, I tried to name her 'Crimson Starfire'. Unfortunately the name was already taken and so I had choose a variation of the name. I did however add that person to my friends list in the off chance I would see them online and possibly barter for the name. Four years went by and I've never once seen that person online! Me = annoyed!

I don't know who to blame more, the annoying guy who always takes the name I want, or the MMO game company for forcing over a million people to pick unique names. In a lot of the cases, games allow for multiple character slots and so one person can be holding on to 10 plus names. If that person goes permanently inactive, those names are lost forever into the ether of the interwebs. Seems like such a waste.

So as online gaming populations grow, it makes more and more sense to be able to recycle the character names floating around in this ether. If a player is inactive for more than 6 months, then I think their character names should be made available for re-use. If the player returns for some reason, then they simply have to pick new names for their characters. It does seem a bit harsh, but I think it's fair. If you choose to leave a MMO game for a large period of time, other players shouldn't be penalized for your abandonment. It's possible that losing a character name may cause the player to not want to return, so the inactive period would need to be made long enough to indicate that the player was never coming back anyway. The game company could even send out a courtesy email informing the ex-player that their character names are going to be recycled if they don't log in before a certain date.

Melf_Himself once comically said:

When I was born it was a very long labour. Apparently my parents had to switch servers until they found one on which there were no other 'Phil's...

It's quiet a funny joke, but sadly that's how MMO games operate. Seems extremely unrealistic to me, especially if the game was aiming to increase realism. This brings me to my other solution to the unique naming problem. Why not let the players name their characters what ever the hell they feel like, with no restriction on uniqueness. The player then also has to create a unique 'call-sign' which applies to all characters on the account. The call-sign can be made of tiny picture icons, different coloured text and what ever else would add to the uniqueness. When you add someone to your friend list, you add their call-sign. When ever they are online it shows their call-sign and the name of the character that they are currently playing. In PvP tournaments, it would be your call-sign that shows next to your stats. That way people can identify you even if you change characters. This would definitely solve the unique name problem and a few others at the same time.

I don't know... seems logical to me...

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).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's all about the retention

What's the point of spending 4+ years building a large scale MMO if you can't hold onto your players? With so many MMOs to choose from these days, the most important design factor should be the retention rate. There are many things that contribute to the retention rate of an MMO, but the biggest by far would be the game play itself.

In the past different game companies have tackled retaining players with different strategies. Blizzard used an insanely long leveling system as well as a bunch of really hard end game content. Their strategy was to always give players a goal upon logging off. There would always be that slightly better item, or that incomplete challenge that would leave the gamer unsatisfied and needing return. Ever wondered why in WoW high level players were allowed to run around and gank lower level ones? It would encourage the lower level ones to level more and seek either revenge or protection from it ever happening again. Blizzard's strategy has definitely been the most successful to date, however I can't see it working particularly well in the future. Gamers are waking up to the fact that endless grinding for bare minimum reward is a waste of time.

New retention strategies will be coming into play and I think they all revolve around convenience. The ability to log on and do what ever it is you want to do in the game with bare minimum effort is the key! There are a lot of people with very little spare time, who want to get into the MMO scene but can't invest the time. One issue with making a game convenient is balance. You can't make certain aspects of the game more convenient than others, or else everyone will flock to that. WAR is a prime example of how convenience imbalance can cause major problems. The majority of people only play scenarios for the leveling convenience. I recently read a brilliant article over at NecroRogIcon explaining why convenience is the trump card on all other aspects of game design. Definitely worth a read.

Some other contributing factors to gamer retention are pricing models, rapid game patching, customer service and of course a fun game with copious amount of content. Using a subscription based pricing scheme is risky. If the game launches with a bunch of problems, players are going to cancel their subscriptions within the first month. Let's face it, which MMOs don't launch with problems? Snafzg had a great idea about extending the initial subscription period included with the purchase of the MMO to 90 days instead of 30. I thought this was a brilliant idea, as the more time a player invests into a game, the less they want to leave. I think moving forward, a non subscription based pricing model will have a better success with retention rates. It allows players to change between MMOs with minimum hassle. Very appealing to the casual gamer, just look at Guild Wars.

Rapid and responsive game patching is another key element to keeping the crowds. If a player has a problem with the game, but can see it being fixed in the near future, it will help to keep them from leaving. Good customer service also goes a long way.

The MMO game industry is still young and lessons are being learned every day. New MMOs are popping up all over the place and old ones are hanging around. With so much to choose from, the gamer needs a reason to stay and it can't be the endless grind factor anymore.

Friday, October 24, 2008

WAR contribution system idea

I'm not a huge fan of the current WAR scenario contribution system for a few reasons. Each class isn't rewarded equally for its efforts (i.e. DPS gets more renown than tanks), and there is very little incentive to carry out the objectives of the scenario (ie. defending a flag). There is also the problem of splitting renown equally throughout the group regardless of contribution, which has lead to the solo grouping issue. It's a delicate issue, as a lot of people feel that all renown gained should be split amongst the group, whereas others believe that players should only be rewarded for their individual effort. Personally I believe there needs to be a combination of both. Players should be encouraged to play as a team, as well as be recognised for individual contribution.

Instead of just talking the talk, I thought I have a go at walking the walk and actually designing how I think the WAR scenario contribution system should work:

My system design would be broken down into two sections, Individual (not split with group mates) and Group rewards.

Base Renown Gain:
There would be three possible ways to gain renown: damage dealt, damage received and healing performed. Each class would only be able to use two of the of the three renown gain methods. Unlike the current system, damage dealt would rewarded instantaneously instead of when a kill is performed (like how healing works currently). Damage received (designed for tanks) would also be rewarded instantaneously. You could not gain renown for self inflicted damage (ie. falling or backfire) or for healing yourself. The amount of renown gained would depend on the class co-efficient. Below is table showing the class co-efficient for each renown gain method:

ClassDmg DealtDmg TakenHealing
Chosen and Knight of the Blazing Sun0.55
Black Orc and Swordmaster0.500.50
Ironbreaker and Blackguard0.500.50
Squig Herder and The White Lion0.400.60
Witch Hunter and Witch Elf0.350.65
Maruader and Shadow Warrior0.450.55
Dwarven Engineer and Chaos Magus0.350.65
Bright Wizard and Sorceress0.300.70
Warrior Priest and Disciple of Khaine0.50
Goblin Shaman and High Elf Archmage0.55
Rune Priest and Zealot0.60

To calculate the renown gained you take the base figure (ie. 1000 dmg = 10 renown) and multiply it by the co-effient for that class (i.e. Bright Wizard: 10 renown * 0.3 = 3 renown). So as a Bright Wizard, you would receive 3 renown for every 1000 damage that you do. The base figures for each gain method would look something like:

MethodAmountRenown Gain
Damage dealt100010
Damage recieved100015
Healing performed100010

The idea of the co-efficient is that your class is rewarded at a higher rate for performing tasks that are more difficult. For example, the Witch Elf/Witch Hunter are rewarded at a higher rate for receiving damage, because it is riskier for them to do so. At the end of the day, all classes should receive the same renown for doing what they are good at. The co-efficient for each class would obviously be tweaked through trial and error to iron out any balance issues.

Diminishing Returns:
Each renown gain method would have diminished returns if used on or received from the same player over time. When the player dies, the diminished return is reset.

Objective Incentives:
Each scenario would provide incentives for performing or helping to perform certain objectives. For example healing a flag runner or killing an enemy flag runner. The incentives would vary depending on the scenario.

Winning the scenario:
This would work in the same fashion that it does at the moment. If your team wins the scenario, you get a renown bonus (i.e 600 RP).

This is where the bulk of your renown gain will come from. When you or a member of your group performs a kill, you and every other member of your group will receive 5 renown for each group member alive. If all six group members are alive, each member of the group will receive 30 renown. This provides an incentive to form large groups as well as staying alive and resurrecting. Only players that are alive receive renown. The amount of renown received per kill would increase with each tier.

Kill bonuses:
When an enemy performs a kill, the renown gained for killing them is the base amount plus 5 for each kill that they have performed. For example if your foe has killed 4 players before you kill them and all six of your group members are alive, you all receive 30 + (4 * 5) = 50 renown.

Kill rampages:
For each successive kill that your group makes without a single member dying the renown gain per kill increases by 5. For example (6 members): First kill = 30 renown each, second kill = 35 renown each, third = 40, etc...

Note: All values used in the above examples are arbitrary and would require actual game research to determine their proper values.

I think this kind of contribution system would reward each class equally, as well as encourage team co-operation. Bonuses would be rewarded to teams that work well together, as well as to individuals that put in extra effort.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some kind of mild awesomeness

I haven't seen any documentation on this, but I've noticed two things today that have been implemented to improve RvR. I may just be blind and they could have been in the game a while however. Anyone else seen these?

1) In some scenarios (I am assuming in others, but I only saw it in Nordenwatch), certain RvR objectives give a bonus to one side. This motivates people to go do open RvR so they can get back to grinding scenarios ;) No, there was no such feature in Tor Anroc :(

2) The "keep under attack" message visible on the minimap is now a little bit more specific... I saw an "inner sanctum breached" tonight. I hightailed it over there, and sure enough the outer door was down... no destruction in sight though. Guess the door must take a while to respawn. I'm glad they added this feature, they should complicate it a little further with maybe DEFCON levels or something :)


Last night I took a Witch Hunter for a spin and aside from the no self heal, it was a bunch of fun. Up to now I've mostly been playing hybrid healer classes in WAR (Archmage and Warrior Priest), and throwing heals around in between dropping Witch Elves (my favorite). I had no idea how much it sux when you can't heal yourself!... and it sux even more when you fall back with 5% health hoping a healer will notice you, only to be picked off 10 seconds later by a passing tank... It almost made me want to stop playing a Witch Hunter altogether :(

Instead of ranting about it, I decided to come up with a possible solution:

All classes (including the ones with healing) are given a "I NEED HEALING!" button that lights up when your character's health drops below a certain threshold (i.e. 40%). When you press the button, a big red flashing arrow appears above your head and can only be seen by players with healing skills within range. When your health is taken above the threshold, the arrow disappears.

Now before we go any further, the idea is to provide identification assistance to the healers and not be a constant pain in the ass. So to prevent players from annoying the hell out of healers, there would be a few rules:
  1. The button can only be pressed once for each drop below the threshold.
  2. Healers can turn off being able to see arrows. A small 'eye' icon next to their portrait will indicate if they have the function turned on or not.
  3. Healers gain additional renown for helping players that have activated their "I NEED HEALING!" button. This provides an incentive to respond.
I think that having a "I NEED HEALING!" button would provide an extra layer of tactic and strategy to WAR battles, as well as giving melee dps classes a chance. It would also assist in identifying low health players in other groups. I know I'd use it ;)

MMORPG's are not for you

Every time I hear somebody complain about grind in MMO's, somebody comes along and says "All MMO's have grind. If you don't like grind, you shouldn't be playing MMO's. Go and play [insert random game with no levelling] Halo."


Brainwashed much? Why do MMO's need to have grind?

Let's pretend that I'm a gaming big wig making a presentation to my board of directors, before anybody's ever heard the term MMORPG.

"Welcome gentlemen! (This is 1998, there are no women on the board of directors of a gaming company)

I've come up with this great new idea for a game! Basically, we take the good old fashioned world of an RPG, and we let heaps and heaps of people run around in it and play together! What fun! I call it an MMORPG, as you can see from this breakdown:

- Players choose a class of character, aka a 'role' to play. Hence the term 'role playing game'.
- Everyone runs around in one big world together, giving the potential to be able to play with a large group of people. Hence the term 'Massively Multiplayer Online'."

"Gee Bill, that's a great idea. Gaming has never seen such a thing. Surely there's some way we can force people to pay through the nose for this."

"What? No, I just think it would be heaps of fun."

"Seriously Bill, get with the program. We can pretend that it costs a lot of money to run the online servers, and use that to justify paying a monthly fee! No other game offers such a large scale multiplayer environment, people will *have* to pay!"

"Look, ok, I guess we could justify $5 a month..."

"Bill ffs sit down. Now the problem is that people only play RPG's for usually 2 - 3 months. How are we going to force them to play longer?"

"Seriously, you can't *force* your players to - "

*board director uses floor lever to open secret trapdoor, dropping Bill in handy waiting pool of piranhas*

"So anyway, we need to force them to stay. Let's make it take roughly 10 times as long to get to the level cap."

"Ok Steve that's great, but what about when the players find all the best items in the game? Surely they'll use those to beat it somehow?"

"That's true Dave. Let's make the items completely random drops, with a miniscule chance that the good items that you actually *need* to do the hardest content will ever drop for you! It works for casinos, and it keeps people *totally* addicted!"

"Fantastic idea Steve! We can make the items special colours, as people are easily fooled by shiny trinkets!"

"Indeed Dave. Additionally, let's make the monsters hit so hard in the toughest areas that it takes a really unrealistic number of people to be ogranized together to have a chance of beating it! That will certainly present a barrier to finishing the game."

"I like where you're going with that Steve, great work! Now, where do you see a game like this going with an expansion?"

"Dave, you should know the answer to that... we'll add more levels, and make it take just as long to get those as all the other levels before them!"

*joint maniacal laughter*

Anyway, have I got my point across yet? If you think MMO's "need" grind it's because all you've played is WoW and EQ. Take a game like Guild Wars.

It has minimal grind, especially for PvP, well defined and balanced classes, tells a great story, and still gives me the potential to play with a massive group of players. Its only downfall is that it's not a persistent world, but I hear they're introducing this in Guild Wars 2, so I have high hopes for the future of MMO's.... grind free!

Monday, October 20, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

Weird huh? Extra points if you can guess how it happened...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Catch-up mode

I read an interesting article recently about motivating players. Zoso points out that it never works out in practice to reward people based on individual performance, because it's just too hard to gauge accurately.

Did you kill 10 guys solo in Nordenwatch? Well, that's great, but maybe you're a bit of a scrub since you were actually not near any shrines and not contributing to the capture and therefore the victory. Unless those guys happened to be on their way from one shrine to the other, and you stopped them from getting there. In which case you're not a scrub, you're a total pro.

How can the game differentiate such a situation? Well, it can't. This is one advantage of handing out an identical reward to every player on the winning side (and a smaller reward to every player on the losing side). Over a large number of matches played, the best players will get rewarded the most, the worst players the least, and it will all work out brilliantly. Except, as Zoso quite rightly points out, that some games are a bit of a landslide because your team sucks very badly. You know, those games that end 500-20. If you only reward the win and not individual stats such as heals/damage, people will just give up and try to lose faster to get to the next game. That sucks.

Ever played a racing game? I was playing Need For Speed on PS2 the other day against my girlfriend. Due to the fact that I suck royally at racing games and because she doesn't, I'm not ashamed to say that I was being whooped good and proper. I spent an impressive amount of time racing the wrong way and attempting to turn around. She won the race easily, but somehow she never really got that far ahead.... thanks to my faithful co-pilot, catch-up mode.

Basically, in many racing games, players who are falling too far behind get to go *faster*. This is a neat game mechanic, since

a) It prevents you from giving up if you stack on the first corner
b) If the other person really is better than you, once you catch up they'll just pull away from you again, so it's not unfair to the leader

Catch-up mode would remove that "meh, next game" problem in scenarios, by keeping the game close and interesting. This would allow a "all winners get the same reward" system to work, which would stop individual rambo's from running around improving their personal score with no regard for the actual team.

Although of course with such a system, I'd still like to see a ladder ranking at the end like we do currently, since I like to stroke my e-peen as much as the next guy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Go back to WoW plz"

That is the forum cry of many a belligerent troll. Yet, I find myself urged to utter it after I read such things as this.

In brief, Tobold says that WAR doesn't have the same end-game raiding structure as WoW, and so after a capital city has been conquered, there is nothing left to do in the game. So players will not stick around for long.

Oh no, really?

You mean I can't spend long months on the endless MMO hamster wheel of diminishing returns trying to grind that extra 5% effectiveness out of my character, in order to fight that next series of enemies that are 5% stronger?

You mean that I don't have to perform as many mindless repetitive tasks in order to eventually play with my friends, and have a fair PvP comptetition with my enemies?

You mean that I don't have to be unemployed and/or have no social life in order to keep up?

You mean that in WAR PvP stands for Player vs Player, and not Play time spent vs Play time spent?

You mean that WAR is not an epic grind-fest like WoW? Whatever will we do with ourselves?

This game is all about RvR. The people who are drawn to play it are excited by the thrill of massive battles, of competitive play, by the joy of outmanoeuvring the competition, by the unpredictability of each encounter.

The small group who accomplished a 3am raid did so unopposed. They had none of the above PvP interaction, and so they were probably pretty left feeling pretty unfulfilled. They'll roll alts, gear up, and chill out while the rest of the player base catches up to them.

Or, they'll realise that they don't actually give a toss about PvP, that they hate having to adapt their playstyle on the fly, that they can't sleep at night without the promise of an incredibly low chance of the MMO casino drop game tossing them out a better item on the next day's raid. And then, they will...

Go back to WoW.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Randomize the Scenarios

Here's the problem, everyone is playing the same scenario map for each tier because said scenario is the 'most fun' or the 'most rewarding' or both. Mythic took a step in the right direction by allowing players to queue for all tier related scenarios in one button press. Unfortunately it still doesn't solve the problem of a particular scenario getting more attention than the others.

My solution is simple: there is one button. You click it and it enters you into the scenario queue. When enough people are in the queue on both sides, a scenario map is automatically picked at random. If you don't like the map, you are allowed to leave, but doing so gives you one 'rage point'. If you get three 'rage points' you have to wait ten minutes before you are allowed to queue for scenarios again. Rage points disappear after 30 mins or so. Kind of like Guild Wars Random Arenas.

This ensures that all scenarios get an even rotation and there isn't a huge problem with rage quitters.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Let us find each other

Anyone who has played or read anything about WAR in the last few weeks knows that the game features moments of truly epic fun separated by long periods of intense boredom / grinding.

This has been blamed on the the far greater rewards from doing scenarios compared to "open world" content such as keep sieges and PQ's, which means that people focus mainly on competing in scenarios and so hardly ever see the more innovative side of WAR.

This is true, however it's not the only reason scenarios are dominating the gameplay. The other reason is that it's just much simpler to find people to play scenarios with thanks to the handy UI/pairing feature.

Take open RvR for example. Let's say you look at your map and see that an enemy keep is under attack, so you decide to go help. You have to march to a town 2-3 minutes from the nearest flight master. Once there, you're not guaranteed of
a) any PvP at all, since it's guarded by NPC's
b) any more than one ally to help you anyway, since other people who may want to keep siege have no idea how many other people want to keep siege. Sometimes even this one ally has nicked off by the time you get there.

What a waste of time! You go off back to scenarios or something. Five minutes later, unbeknownst to you enough other people accidentally wander past and form a group, and end up taking the keep. Sucks to be you don't it?

But it doesn't have to be like this. What if, like scenarios:

Every single group based activity in the game has a simple UI feature to aid grouping with every player on the server, regardless of their location, who might be interested in that activity.

My suggestion: Expand that little scenario button next to the minimap. When people click on it, they receive the following info:

Declare your interest in one of these activities to find other players to group with!

1) Scenarios
- UI box turns into current scenario options, works as current

2) Open RvR
- Players can choose any keep/node in any tier that they have visited before. Locations never visited, and those not able to be captured (due to changing hands recently) are grayed out. Locations that would result in "chickenification" have a chicken icon.
- Players can choose to form a group that will try to claim the objective.
- Alternately, players can choose "notify me" to be automatically invited when another group forms in this way and when an open group not formed this way begins the objective. A "join now or join later" dialogue box similar to the join scenario interface is given, in case people don't want to join the group right away.
- Players selecting the "notify me" option can specify how big they want the party to be before they're notified. Eg you might want to be notified only if there's more than 10 people signed up, or you might say blow it, notify if even one other person wants to play. If nobody has volunteered to form the party but your desired number of players is reached, the game asks you to form the party.
- Players don't have to click on every single option they're interested in being notified about. There are checkboxes so that you could, for example, join all in a particular tier, or all in the dwarf/greenskin pairing, or only keep sieges in tiers 3 and 4, or only tier 2 defense nodes, etc etc.
- Hovering over each location / "choose all" checkbox will tell you how many of your allies are queued up to do the same, and how many are already in a group doing the same thing (with right-click functionality to join existing groups).
- There is a separate tab for offense and defense. For defense, you can select to be notified when zero other people are in a group, which will give you a dialogue box the moment the objective comes under attack (again, regardless of which tier you're in).

3) Dungeons

4) PQ's

5) Regular Q's

- Rinse and repeat for all these from point 2. The general focus should be no matter where you are, no matter what you're doing, you can put your name down to get involved in whatever interests you. When enough players do the same, you'll know right away.

Please Mythic, I know there are other players online wanting to do the same things that I do. Help us find each other.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

WAR stuff that doesn't make sense:

There are a lot of things in WAR that don't make sense, but these can often be attributed to bugs. I've found a few things that are most likely bugs, but if not they definitely require further explanation from Mythic. Here is the list, I'll let you be the judge:

1. Archmage dodgy dealings?
When the Archmage charges their tranquility or high magic to max, tiny Gork and Mork icons appear behind the flames. Is the Archmage batting for the Greenskins, or was this a dev cut and paste error from the Shaman?

2. Healing deals damage?
Why is healing measured in DPS? Shouldn't it be HPS (Health Per Second)?

3. Everyone is right handed?
Why are all the weapons right handed, and the shields/focus items left handed? I'm sorry, but all left handed babies are shot...

4. All weapons at the same level deal the same DPS?
I think it's odd that a staff can deal the same DPS as sledge hammer or great axe in melee. I could understand if the staff shot fireballs or something but no, it's a whacking stick. I know which one I'd rather be hit with...

5. Can't thank the Auctioneer?
Why does mail from Auction House have a reply button on it that doesn't work? Why does it even have a reply button to begin with?

6. DPS math a bit odd?
All weapons have a DPS rating and a speed rating. To get the damage value of the weapon, you divide the DPS by the speed (assuming speed is measured in seconds). This of course would indicate that every weapon has a set damage. A 16 DPS, speed 2 weapon would deal 8 damage per hit.

Here's the weird thing, if you set your char on auto attack, the damage is not constant. The values that come up vary (ignoring crits). Maybe the label should read 'average DPS'?

7. No auto-attack for pistol?
Why does the Witch Hunter pistol have a DPS and speed rating if you cannot use it on auto attack? It can only ever be fired via the use of a skill. Wouldn't it make more sense for pistols to just have a damage rating?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Don't contribute, get a lollie...

As you may have guessed from my previous posts, I'm a little bewildered as to how WAR measures contribution in scenarios. This caught my eye last night while playing Mourkain Temple (click to enlarge):

A player that contributed nothing to the scenario (i.e. no damage or healing), gained more XP than myself (Bloodfire), who contributed considerably. Try working that one out???

I really hope Mythic know what they are doing, because it's these kind of bugs that invite botting. You would only need a macro that auto enters you into a scenario and another to make subtle movements on the keyboard to prevent the game from logging you out. You could go to bed and when you wake up your char would be 15 ranks higher... Mythic needs to get the devs onto this one asap, because it will really be bad for business.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

WAR Auction House a bit broken?

We all already knew WAR's Auction House had a 'few' hick-ups with the search, but how about random overpriced weird sh!t (click to enlarge):

This was an item that showed up when I searched for Archmage armor rank 14-17. Weird huh? As you can see, something is seriously wrong. The fonts are all screwy and the armor value is 15423. The usable careers include the Hammerer and the Choppa?? Lol... I would have purchased it if it wasn't 12995 gold...

Just another bug to add to the list :(

Archmages are leet

After reading a couple of articles about the Archmage class (Awesomeness of the Archmage, So you think you can Heal), I decided to give one a go for myself. I rolled a female High Elf named 'Bloodfire' (feel free to laugh at my lame name choices, Melf does), and leveled her to Tier 2 almost entirely via Scenarios. The Scenario queue time is minimal on a Saturday for people playing Order, so I leveled her extremely fast.

One thing that amazed me was how easy it is for a healer to gain renown. I was almost always at max renown rank, as you cannot take it higher than your level rank. After a while, I started to notice a bit of a pattern. DPS type classes tend to finish with a high amount of XP, while healers finish with a high amount of renown. Here is a screen shot I took after playing Mourkain Temple (click to enlarge):

Another interesting point was that I can gain 2500+ RP for less than 10 minutes work in a Scenario, so why would I want to spend over an hour doing RvR and gain less than 500 RP? I also thought it was odd that Order lost the match, yet I gained over twice the renown of the best Destruction player?? I have no idea how the contribution system works, but I think Mythic need to re-visit it and make RvR more appealing in the process.

I definately enjoyed playing the Archmage a lot more than my Warrior Priest. They can heal close to that of a Rune Priest and still deal a large amount of damage in the process. At rank 14 I was able to heal 70K+ in a Scenario and still get 2 kills to my name. The coolest part about being a healer is getting +8 RP every time a HoT triggers. All I had to do was keep Lambent Aura up constantly on all nine other team mates and then cash in on the renown. The game rewards you for playing like a robot: tab, cast, tab, cast, tab, cast... seems a bit broken in my books. For now the Archmage seems like the most efficient class for gaining renown whilst still holding their own in combat. I recommend it to all the hardcore PvPers out there, especially if you want to gain large amounts of renown for your guild.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Target calling in WAR

I've read a lot of posts and articles about suggestions to make WAR a better game, but the one suggestion I haven't seen mentioned is target calling. Target calling was an extremely popular function in Guild Wars, which allowed any party member to notify all other party members of the enemy that they are targeting. When a target is called, the mini map is pinged to the location of the target informing all other group members where to look. A line of text is added to the chat window saying: "Player x is targeting player y" and a small target icon appears next to the player that called the target allowing other players who click it and lock on. It was possibly the most used mechanic during combat in Guild Wars.

So whats so important about calling targets and why will WAR benefit from it? Target calling is essential for spiking down individual foes, as well as advertising weak or low health targets to the rest of your group. Good leaders can guide inexperienced players through priority targets, as well as direct group movements around the map. Given that WAR is heavily based on PvP, I'm amazed that Mythic didn't integrate a target calling feature into the game.

To take it one step further, it would be nice to have some smarts behind the target calls as well. Eg:
  • "Player x is targeting Player y, who is holding the flag!"
  • "Player x is targeting player y, who is below half health!"
  • "Player x is targeting player y, who is nearly dead!"
I think target calling would be extremely helpful in scenarios, where groups are often made up of randoms. It would bring some order to the chaos and provide extra depth to the tactics required to play the game.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shock horror, game devs listen to players

Mythic has continually astounded me over the last 2 weeks with their tireless reading of forums and prompt addressing of player concerns. Seriously, I'm used to bitching about things in an MMO for a good year or 2 before they end up getting changed.

Mythic has made a ton of changes, including:

- Allowing scenarios to be queued up for all racial pairings within a tier (dramatically reducing queue times)
- Altering the White Lion 'pounce' ability so that they can't unfairly beat Destro to the bauble in one of the Tier 2 scenarios
- Fixing Tab targeting
- Fixing the chat interface
- Fixing the target out of range bug
- Fixing pet AI
- Fixing the friends list
- Adding an auto loot option
- Reducing random crashes

Granted, ideally several of these things should have been in the shipped product, but big props to Mythic for listening to the fans and fixing a lot of the most outstanding issues as quickly as they can. In particular I'm a big fan of the Scenario fix, since this is what I've spent the majority of my time playing so far (actually I've spent the majority grinding for gear/levels... I should say, I've had the majority of my fun in scenarios :p).

Anyway, I've never seen such a fast turn around before, and hope it continues.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Secret to getting fast Renown

Last night Melf told me about a neat little trick he discovered on the forums for gaining Renown in WAR scenarios extremely quickly. All you have to do is change teams in the scenario so that you are alone or with the mates you want, and you will gain a stack more renown (the less in your team the better). The trick sounded very simple, so naturally Melf and I tried it for ourselves. Sure enough... it worked...

I used my Warrior Priest (Starmantle) and Melf used his Iron Breaker (Drogan) in the Troll Crossing scenario. We created our own little team in slot 10 and played as we normally do.

To change teams in a scenario you right click your character portrait and select 'Leave scenario team'. There will then be an option to join any other team you like. Just click the 'join' link at the bottom of a team slot in the team window.

Here are the results of the first match. Yup, Starmantle and Drogan top scored for Renown. Not bad for rank 17 and 18. The XP gained was nice as well:

Similar results in the second match (click images to enlarge):

This neat neat little trick isn't an exploit. The reason you get more renown than everyone else is that you don't split it with your team mates. In other words, you don't have slackers sapping the rewards for your hard work. The other advantage is that you always get the rewards from corpse looting (he he, no need to roll). The downside is that you miss out on all the buffs associated with being in a group.

Although it is great to finally get the renown I have worked for, I really hope Mythic fix this problem because it promotes solo play in scenarios, which can only lead to disaster.