Sunday, March 29, 2009

From the mouths of babes...

My girlfriend is looking for a new MMO to play, and is browsing through the current market of games. She's played Final Fantasy games before, and so seemed interested in the Final Fantasy MMO.

After researching it for 10 minutes or so, she says to me:

Her: "I don't get it, this game has no PvP"

Me: "Oh, really?"

Her: "Like, what is the point of an online game with no PvP?... Do people just stand around holding hands and singing tra-la-la-la?"

Me: No comment.

My young padawan is coming along quite nicely. Soon we will take over the galaxy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Acceptable MMO sitting time?

In my younger days I used to spend 4-6 hours a night leveling up my MMO characters. Back then it was never a huge issue, but now I've got responsibilities and other commitments that consume large amounts of my time. It's very difficult to fit more than 1-2 hours of game play into a single sitting. For some games this is not a problem, but for others it's near impossible to actually get anywhere in the game. World of Warcraft is a prime example of an MMO that requires large amount of time in a single sitting in order to participate in certain elements of the game. If you want to do a raid with your guild, you can kiss the next 3 hours of your time goodbye. If you want to leave the raid early, you are often severely frowned upon by your team members. I used to think this was perfectly acceptable, but now I think it's just bad game design. MMOs should not force the player into large time commitments, and they certainly shouldn't punish them or their team mates for needing to leave early.

When I first started playing Left 4 Dead I was amazed at how easily the game dealt with players joining and leaving. A L4D campaign is around an hour long, and requires incredibly intense concentration in order to progress successfully. So what happens when the phone rings or your partner calls out they need a hand with the cooking? Easy, you just go AFK. The computer automatically detects your absence and the AI takes control of your character. You aren't kicked from the game, and your team mates don't suffer for your temporary loss. You can return to the game at any time and continue playing the campaign. If only such a technology existed in party oriented MMORPGs, so many problems would be solved...

If you asked me what I thought the maximum amount of time that an MMO should enforce in a single sitting, I would say one hour. If MMO designers used this number as their goal when building raids/dungeons/instances, I think we would all be better off. There should also be an automatic mechanism which compensates for the loss of a player, and prevents their team from suffering any consequences.

I should point out that this issue must not be confused with grinding. Time required in a single sitting and the amount grinding required to achieve an element of the game are two separate issues. I'll tackle the grind issue another day ;P

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pressure vs spike

Pressure and spike are the Yin and the Yang of the best tactical PvP games. They are two opposing tactics in gameplay, working with and against each other. Knowing when to use one or the other and when to switch is the hallmark of a good player, and having such decisions as a natural part of a game is the hallmark of a clever PvP design.

What do these concepts mean?

Pressure: Literally, putting pressure on the opposing team. You probably won't win/score directly by applying pressure, but you will decrease their margin for error. This sets you up to be able to...

Spike: A co-ordinated effort to win/score.

I'll use Left 4 Dead as a nice example. The Infected team must continually harass the Survivors (pressure), and eventually must co-ordinate an assault to really lay the hurt on the Survivors and hopefully incapacitate someone (spike).

Now consider this - the higher the life totals of the Survivors, the less likely that a given spike will be successful. Hence the need to pressure the Survivors down - you need to take action that may not immediately secure your victory, but will instead enable you to achieve a spike in the future that will.

For example, imagine you are faced with attacking a target with low health or a target with high health, who are both separated a little from the group. This will happen roughly a bajillion times per match. If you attack the high health target, you reduce his health lower which increases the chances of a future spike incapacitating him and hence achieving the ever-juicy team wipe. If you attack the low health target, you may incapacitate him right now (taking him out of the equation), but if your team-mates aren't around and ready to take advantage of the situation, he will just be helped back up and healed. Plus, he was probably going to get healed soon anyway (his health was low).

So, you need to pressure to be able to spike, and you need to spike to avoid all your pressure being invalidated. The Yin, and the Yang.

Another example of a game that revolves around this concept is Guild Wars. The preferred build of the top guilds is the so-called "balanced" build. Warriors will chase squishy targets around and hit them to build their spiking skills, Mesmers will attempt to lock out key skills to facilitate damage, Monks will protect targets that look like they may be subject to a future spike, Rangers will spread debilitating conditions and DoT effects, etc. Soon, everyone's health and energy starts to get a little low (pressure). The lower a player's health, the less the margin of error that the Monks (healer characters) have in order to save them when the inevitable spike occurs.

The beauty of Guild Wars is that the more you are pressuring the other team, the more disruptive you are to them, and so the less their ability to spike you. In this way the best defense can be a good offense. But, if you pressure them too aggressively, you may find yourself overextending or not having enough energy to overcome the enemy's next spike. It's always a trade-off, this Yin and Yang of competitive PvP.

This idea applies to sporting games and I suspect pretty much any endeavour that pits two or more human competitors against each other.

Meet my Hero and Villain

Hudson recently did a post on his Heroes in City of Heroes and I thought I might follow suit. Over the last five weeks I've been working on two main characters in City of Heroes. One hero and one villain. Here are their details:


Meet Lady Xaphan:

I named her after Xaphan the fallen angel, who was cast out of heaven for trying to set it on fire. The name works well since she is a magical Brute with Fire/Fire powers. What I love about this character is the awesome wings that flap automatically when you fly around. Her first costume is that of a succubus, and her second is meant to be a Gothic looking vampire:

I've set up key binds to make her look like she is in agony when changing costumes. The role players seem to love it ;)


Meet The Avatar of Virtue:

There was no way I was going to go through an MMORPG without making a character with a sword and shield. That's when 'Avatar of Virtue' was created. She is a technology Scrapper with Sword/Shield powers. I gave her the Teleportation power set to get around, and I have to admit that it is very cool. I'd like to say that teleporting is better than flight, but it's major draw back is that it uses up enormous amounts of endurance, which makes traveling long distances tricky. It's definitely good for getting out of sticky situations though.

Out of both character, I'd have to say I enjoy being the villain more. There is just something about being evil that really appeals to me... muh ha ha ha...

I'm still enjoying City of Heroes, but I'm really starting to feel the grind. My highest level character is Lady Xaphan and she is only level 26. I'm not sure I want to do the crazy amount of grinding required to get her to level 50. I may end up hanging around only long enough to see how the Mission Architect expansion pans out. I'm not a big fan of grinding.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My first CoX PvP experience

I've being playing City of Heroes/Villains for a little under a month now and have been loving every minute of it. I'm a huge PvP fan (no secrets there), and so I was eager to get to the PvP areas of the game. You cannot truly judge a game, until you've experienced it's PvP content in full ;)

Last night I discovered Bloody Bay, which is apparently the lowest level PvP zone in the game. Everyone who enters the area is scaled up/down to level 25, which keeps the battles fair. For those who haven't played CoX before, the PvP zone maps are huge. I'm talking 5+ minutes of in game travel to get from one side of the map to the other. It's not like your standard arena battles either. It can take considerable time to find an opponent and they usually travel in pacts, which makes it difficult to have a good old 1v1. Also the map is full of NPCs, that will attack you if aggro'd. This makes choosing your battle ground crucial.

I have many alts in CoX, but my highest is a level 25 Villain Brute with Fire/Fire (melee tank/dps class). I'd decked the char out with a bunch of level 25 single origin enhancements, which are supposedly the best cost to benift choice, and so I was pretty confident that my first PvP encounter would go smoothly...

Man was I wrong...

To put it bluntly I had my ass handed to me on a plate with a side order of chips and salad. No joke, the guy came out of no where and owned me in four seconds flat. After re-spawning, I brushed off the noob embarrassment and headed back into the battle zone. After about fifteen minutes of flying around I finally found someone else to fight. He/she was fighting some NPCs, and so I thought I'd take advantage of the situation and execute a perfect gank. I know that ganking is frowned upon in all MMOs, but sometimes you need to get a little dirty in order to extinguish the noob flames... :P

I jumped in and successively unleashed four of my most powerful attacks on the poor unsuspecting player. Their health dropped by about 10 percent. The player continued to finish off the NPCs and then turned and killed me in five or six moves. WTF?? At this point I realized that I must seriously be missing something. Is there like some aura of leetness that I was supposed to buy before going into the PvP zone?

Attempt number three: I decided to play it smart this time and wait for another villain to spawn and then follow them and let them choose the battle. The villain went about 30 seconds away from the base and landed on a rooftop full of heroes and villains. Ahhhh... I'd finally found the place where the battles were taking place... or were they? For some reason everyone was standing around watching two guys duke it out in the center. I figured it was some kind of organized battle, so I just stood back and tried not to look like a noob. I watched the extremely boring battle for about 4 minutes with still no victor and so decided to mix things up a bit. I jumped in and started attacking the hero as well. Holy crap, that definitely livened up the party. Another hero jumped on me, and then another villain jumped on him. The next thing both sides were in a full scale battle. As it should be... Unfortunately I was killed about eight seconds into it, which I think is my highest survival record to date. After I re-spawned, I decided not to go back into the fray. I was a little tired I getting slaughtered, so I logged off.

I think the next time I do some CoX PvP, I might take someone with me who knows what they are doing. The PvP zones are extremely noob unfriendly. I'm also going to have to hit the forums and find out what the hell I was missing to prevent insta-death.

All in all I was a little disappointed by my first CoX PvP experience, but it hasn't completely deterred me. I'll be giving it another shot, once I figure out the recipe for leetness ;)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The likeness is uncanny

Seriously, this looks just like me:

...although I usually wield dual lightsabers, so I guess this picture is a little inaccurate...

Good fun though :P

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Virtual memories...

This post by Ixobelle prompted me to dig back through some of my gaming screen shots. I found some screen captures from my old Guild Wars days that triggered off some good memories, so I thought I would share:

Pure pwnage!
This screen shot is of Melf and I winning Random Arenas. I was Monking and Melf was running some super DPS Assassin build. What is significant about this is that two people on our team rage quit before the match even began. It was just Melf and I versus 4 other players. The other team had a good Monk, and it was no easy battle. We ended up beating them after 6 minutes of possibly the greatest RA match I have ever played. Melf's comment at the end was appropriate:

"Can you say pwnt?"

Taking the Hall of Heroes
This was the first time I ever took Hall of Heroes. My guild at the time was 'Premade Paladins [Mend]'. It was a very strong guild made up of 11 players, and taking Halls later became a common occurrence. This capture is significant because it was the first time we ever achieved something great as a guild.

The Peak of Greatness
This is both a happy and sad memory. The screeny is of the highest guild rank attained by my guild. We were eighth in the world, which is no easy achievement. We got there by running a severely broken Smiting-Thumper build. You can also see my character doing a rather embarrassing Bambi emote. I think I was the lowest ranked in the guild... ah good times...

Unfortunately the guild disbanded not long after this screen shot was taken. When you start doing well, everyone wants to contribute their own two cents. Without proper leadership in-fighting ensures, and it's a death spiral from there on in. As they say: 'What goes up, must come down'. I never joined another serious guild again after this (in any MMO). It's hard taking steps backward when you were once so great. I guess that's what screen shots are for, so that you never forget the good times :)

I remember capturing many other great gaming moment's but they were lost through the years as I've sold and upgraded my computers. A bit sad I guess, but all the more reason to print them out and store them. Thanks Ix for the trip down memory lane ;)