Archive for September, 2009

Dramatically Failing, Simply Succeeding

September 30, 2009

I was talking to a friend of mine today while I was playing a flash game called Sonny 2. I realized that I was having a lot of fun playing this game and that it felt a lot like MMO boss fights at times. This friend is an avid WoW addict player and I had recently failed once more to join him with enthusiasm so I mentioned to him that if WoW had boss fights like this Sonny 2 game then I would gladly rejoin him. He, of course, had no clue what I meant, and so by the time I was finished explaining I had it clearly lined out that MMO endgame boss fights (and most of the boss fights throughout in general) are boring to me because they have such a small margin for error.

I think it’s fair to say that they may be able to make WoW a game I want to play simply by making the boss fights easier. How this would mix with min/maxing and hardcore efficient players I don’t know, but for the rest of us I think it would rejuvinate the experience.

Now what makes the boss fights in this flash game so fun? You can walk into the unkown without getting stomped. Plain and simple. Every boss has some different trick to him. Some bosses heal themselves to half health when they get low on life, some bosses have abilities that will one-shot you if you can’t find a way to counter it, some bosses have ridiculous debuffs that make one man in your team useless, and the list goes on. The trick is that all of these things can kill you, just like bosses in MMOs, but they aren’t so over the top that you have to know what they’re going to do before they do it to survive it. The game allows for a learning while playing without making the bosses so incapable that you cannot fail.

Sonny 2 removes required anticipation and instead gives you fights where you can wander into the unknown, take a huge hit from something you didn’t expect, and adapt before you get crushed flat in one fell swoop. It’s been a lot of fun for me, and I think the giants could learn something from this little flash game.

I’ve read a lot recently about making boss encounters randomized but  I think that with the current combat systems it wouldn’t really work. Combat happens so fast and so dramatically that any boss ability that you don’t know how to counter effectively will simply kill your group. You would go from knowing each boss individually to being required to memorize a huge list of potential abilities and know how to respond to each one in a matter of seconds. As it is right now it’s not even obvious what all the boss mechanics even do without someone telling you, or until you wipe. One player can be new to an encounter, unless it’s the healer or the tank, without any severe consequences, but any more than that and you risk failing miserably as players fail to react to befuddling stimuli.

If combat were reduced in pace, so that in the second stage of the boss fight when there’s incredible AOE your healers have time to learn on the fly instead of having to have prepared and be aware before their first time, then I think that many boss encounters would be seen more as fun and the “endgame” MMOs have come to love might be a little more accepted by the skeptics, or maybe bosses would start to be fun, instead of being pushovers pre-level-cap and patterned machines at max-level. I think it might be in the simplicity of reducing the dramatic nature of combat that MMO bosses might find their salvation- for me at least.

As always, this is just food for thought. Come share your opinion! 🙂

Unique Uniqueness is still Uniquely Unique

September 27, 2009

Barring the fact that “uniqueness” might not be a real word (it is), I’d like to briefly (for me) discuss what seems to me to be an unstoppable trend in today’s static MMO.

Ever in life are we striving to define ourselves as unique individuals. Some of us do that through things like stacking a single adjective in three different forms on top of itself in a blog title, while others do more practical things like following their dreams on a romantic vacation to Italy. The sense of identity is as important to each and every one of us as the blood flowing through our veins, if it wasn’t there then we wouldn’t be either. I think it’s important to consider how our identity transfers over into MMOs.

I bring this up because Roleplaying, at its core, is the assumption of a new identity for the sake of pleasure, and I don’t think that the static nature of MMOs today really allow for a sufficient enough expression of identity for the everyday gamer. Player housing is a step in the right direction, but everything is still stamped with the “Developer Stamp of Approval” and can only serve to represent an individual’s preference in the way they acquire and organize someone elses brainchildren.

This also overlaps into other areas such like player titles and rare gear. Every time I acquire a new piece of gear, especially one that has a rare chance to drop, I feel great. Every time I get a new title that I can show off by doing something difficult and/or obscure

The one thing that MMOs are doing right with respect to expressions of individuality is player naming and face/body customization (although this could use a lot of work to be really good, the technical whippidydoo would more than likely be expensive and time consuming). Surnames are even better because they let you develop your character on a deeper intellectual level. Now there are always problems with any system if you look at it in a context that it wasn’t intended to be viewed with, and nowhere do we see this more clearly than in characters named things like “Ibubblehearth” the paladin and “healzforfree” the cleric. The game is taken out of the context of a roleplaying game and put into the context of an MMO. I kind of made a mental leap there, but I think it’s fair to argue that MMOs aren’t necessarily designed solely as traditional RPGs so this naming “problem” isn’t really a problem at all, but rather a consequence of the social response to the genre not identifying itself strictly as a traditional RPG.

But so here I am with my legendary “First Blade of the Seventh Sun” and people now see my name as “Vulcar, Master of Elements” and I feel pretty cool. I walk into the bank at my local Wal-Mart city and I see another “First Blade” and two other mages with “Master of Elements” after their name. Any feelings of uniqueness are now shattered.

I can think of two equally legitimate ways to think about this situation:

1. Because everything in the world is static anything I can possibly acquire will inevitably be acquired by many other people. What my character looks like and is called is nothing more than a record of how good (and lucky in a lot of cases) I am at getting stuff. I’m not feeling the individuality vibe here, thinking like that makes me feel like one of a thousand mice all looking for cheese at the end of a maze, and I’m not even havin fun- I’m just hungry.

2. Individuality is expressed by which titles you choose to display and what gear you attempt to acquire. This mostly works for titles, except for the fact that some titles are invariably waycooler than others (I mean, “Wing Cutter” or “Warg-Foe”? Do you really have to ask?). But as I said, it mostlyworks for titles as long as there are plenty of them to pick from like in LOTRO. In every game there is a min/maxing feel to gear acquisition and if someone wanted to spend the time then they could rank every single piece of gear in the game for each and every one of your slots and you would always know what pieces were upgrades and what pieces were downgrades. There would be no excuse for equipping your cool looking robe if you had one that was twice as good, and once everyone that could use that twice as good robe had it you would all look the same. LOTRO also has a clothing dye and cosmetic outfit system so that you can appear to be infinitely cooler than you actually look in your poorly matching, although quite epic, gear.

I have to admit that the second option seems pretty good with those ideas implemented in LOTRO, but I didn’t write all of this just to agree with myself that there’s something out there that’s pretty darn near perfect so here it comes. What LOTRO does just isn’t good enough if you really want to give people a sense of individual uniqueness. What titles you can gain in the game make you more a part of “the group of people that did that dangerous and/or obscure thing” than “the individual that did such and such thing.” Is that bad? Not exactly, I’m sure it helps the sense of community in LOTRO sometimes because people can bond over the experience of acquiring that title, but it can’t always be about the whole. Sometimes you just have to be yourself. Even with the clothing dyes/cosmetic outfits every piece of gear has been designed by your developers, and while they may have some cool stuff you may have an idea of something that you think might look even cooler, but you’ll never see it because the developers never thought of it.

The primary argument in all of this is that for true individuality to be expressed in an MMO setting players need to be able to create content, and the world cannot remain static. Who really cares if you killed the “Grand Ogre Magi Krogg” if they could just go kill him (or a renamed but identical version of him) right now. Who really cares if you pried the fabled “Sword of a Thousand Kingdoms” from the hands of the great “War-Tyrant Balzor” if they could just go farm him for a few weeks to get the drop themselves? Your house may look nice, but I’ve seen that orc’s head in too many houses for me to think it’s cool anymore. It’s great that you’re known as the “Scourge of the Seas” but I saw twenty people yesterday known as the same thing!

Now letting players go off the deep end and have unrestrained power to customize would be ludicrous. Even in LOTRO you’d have too many “Llegolas Uvmrikwoods” popping up everywhere and things like “Ihaveabow letmeshowyou” would even crop up. Customized titles could be even worse, but things like designing chairs/tables and even the pattern for your wallpaper would help housing out a lot. Custom armor would help you to create the character you want other people to see you as- and, combat system allowing (maybe the biggest “if” ever), even let you create a piece of gear with stats that reflect how you want to play your character (there’s not much choice in how you play a class in most games, does anyone disagree?).

This is by no means a demand for more customization options in MMOs, but rather an exploration of how more customization options could potentially benefit the player’s experience. I just see that in their current format MMOs have an unavoidable lack of individual expression, but perhaps that is a good thing considering how much time people pour into these games already. 😛

The Price of Blog Traffic

September 25, 2009

I would love it if everyone that used to read this blog knew that it was back up, but I am vehemently opposed to showing up at peoples blogs and posting an ad for your own. I also find myself with moral dilemmas about the following traffic-enhancing methods:

1. Posting on other peoples’ articles just so that people will click your name and wander to your blog
2. Linking to interesting posts with very loose logical ties to the content of said posts

So I will sit here patiently, hoping that wordpress.com throws up my stuff on the “possibly related posts” sections. I don’t have a TON of time to visit and read and make useful comments on other blogs, and I can’t figure out why when I sign into wordpress to make a comment it doesn’t display a link in some places. Oh well. So cheers to Ysharros and Tesh! The only two readers for now!

The only reason I even mention this is because I think it’s a shame that some things will get buried as I post more (I have three posts waiting in line to be published at the moment)- I would really enjoy to have LONG conversations on some of the topics with lots of input.

PvPEE All Over My Game! :O

September 22, 2009

I admit, perhaps last night I was having too much fun with the title for this post, but what I have to say is actually serious. PvPEE seemed like a clever play on acronyms to mean everything from PvP to PvPE to PvE.

Now I’m hoping that you’re wondering what I mean by PvPE, because if you’re not then this paragraph will be very boring for you. As you might think, it means exactly what it looks like, Player versus Player-Environment. This is just an expression that I am creating to clearly define PvP activity that influences someone’s PvE game. A good example would be Wintergrasp in World of Warcraft, and there’s something in WAR like it too, but I don’t know enough about WAR to speak on its behalf.

The issue is mixing what I consider to be two distinctly different game types together in such a way that you create a situation for your players where they are forced to do something they never wanted to do when they bought your game.

>>>>>>I figure I should add now that I know that other people have most assuredly blogged on this topic, so feel free to link me and others to their posts in the comments.<<<<<

Shadowbane. PvP extraordinaire. Again, though, we see a relatively large PvE part in the game. Wanting to build and besiege cities, I loaded up the game I had high expectations. Then I found out that I have to grind my way up to being effective before I could think about PvP-ing. That’s not such a huge problem, but my time is limited and I can satisfy my lust for killing other peoples’ avatars much easier by loading up StarCraft/WarCraft2/3. No it’s not the same thing, but there’s fire, explosions, and death- so they kind of fall in the same category to me.

The one thing, which I think is the strongest idea on the side of the fence I’m not arguing for, is the motivation behind PvP in games with PvE. Something I’ve seen come up a long when people talk about EVE is that many pirate players would like to see high-security space become less safe, so no one can avoid their wrath. This essentially equates to, “I want to be able to take everything from everyone, no matter who they are or where they’re hiding” but I’m not saying that this mentality is a bad thing per se. In the context of a PvP game it’s okay- on another day I might even argue it’s a good thing -but in a game with PvE where players may just want to play the game and not interact with other players in a hostile manner it would be most unfortunate if those PvE players could not avoid the PvP.

I got a little distracted there, but the point was supposed to be that defeating someone, destroying their fortress, and turning their allies against them loses its flavor when there is nothing behind their character. PvE helps a PvP game to create substance for your character. When someone defeats you they not only defeat another enemy, but they are putting themselves in a superior position with respect to the time spent building the character. If everyone has spent a minimum of 24-hours creating and leveling their characters then defeating another player means that you have bested them in one small way, killing them, that has the much larger implication that you have bested their 24-hour effort to create a character.  If everyone instantly creates a max-level character and has all of the available abilities then the satisfaction for beating them has to be solely based on their defeat, and nothing else. In my opinion this show that PvE can be a vital, perhaps even essential, part of PvP play in a Roleplaying Game setting.

But so that is kind of what works against what I’m saying a little bit, it’s good stuff though- worth thinking about. However my theory and PvE helping PvP be meaningful don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The problem that I’m suggesting exists is only apparent when a game allows for exclusive focus on its PvE elements. I’m saying that if players can enjoy playing a PvE game without ever needing to be involved in PvP then any kind of PvP/PvE integration will impact the game negatively.

This article at Tobold’s mentions the important idea of how people are socialized into MMOs and that’s exactly what I’m talking about here. At level 80 WoW supports exactly two (three if you count what someone said at ixobelle’s about players that just enjoy manipulating MMO economies (more than a few are evil bastards not the most polite folk and kept me from ever getting my enchanting skill up in WoW)) types of players. PvP players and PvE players. There is some overlap- and I’m sure some people are grateful for the opportunity to shake things up a bit (I enjoyed doing BGs occasionally pre-80 (and pre-70 before this latest expansion)) when they get bored -but for the most part you do one or the other exclusively. This has a lot to do with the necessity for different types of difficult-to-obtain gear for each type of play, but that nuance is not what this post is about.

So why is the PvP/PvE mix, like in WoW, bad? Before I mentioned the socialization of MMO players into a game, and Tobold’s article focuses on poor group dynamics while leveling leading to clueless players at level 80 that don’t know what’s going on or how to play their class. Even worse is a player that has done nothing but leveling and PvP so they actually have fairly decent gear but no experience in a group. You see this because your game has two distinct purposes, to provide a meaningful PvP environment and a meaningful PvE environment, and each type of environment requires a distinct type of socialization.

The two types of socialization don’t mix very well all the time. As I mentioned before, having a PvP player join your group for difficult instances and raids can be PvE-suicide. This is not anywhere near a judgement on all PvP players, even though I haven’t had good experiences with PvP players that did not have strong PvE roots, it is simply a statement of risk. I remember joining a practice arena in WoW and I was ridiculed for not having better PvP gear by my ally, and it was because I really did bring him down just because my gear wasn’t made for PvP.

This is another idea I’ve seen floating around a lot, so I can’t really pin it on one person with a link, but the idea that MMOs are trying to be too much to everyone is a core part of what I’m trying to say. I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to get to this, but this is what I think is the most important part of all this:

PvP-focused design partitions players into factions that are incapable of cooperating in a PvE setting. This leads to a split world and player base. In WoW you can only do half of the available quests, visit half of the available towns, and play with half of the available players in PvE. Besides the fact that this makes any PvE content (aside from the few neutral factions and instances) worth only half of what it could be worth, it creates a rift between players so that you further stress the inherent flaws of the system (lack of healers/tanks gets worse when you have to pull group members from a player base of half the size (every server is different in its proportions, but I’m using the ideal because that is another nuance that is not relevant here)).

In EverQuest (Let the constant referencing continue) there was a sense of reality in the faction system. If you picked an evil race then the other evil races got along pretty well with you and the good guys wanted to rip your heart out. It’s the same way with the PvP-focused design of WoW and WAR except that there are no exceptions, your primary faction standings are static. In EverQuest if you were a Dark Elf, Troll, Ogre, or even an Iksar (the race despised by all) then you could work your way into the hearts of the Wood Elves if you spent enough time killing their foes. Who wouldn’t love the guy that dealt a serious blow to your foe, and while doing so alienated himself from his own people? That gave the game a sense of lore, but without the NPC rigidity a PvP-focused system requires. Grouping was also not restricted by faction. If you want to kill some nasty baddies why shouldn’t that funny looking Ogre be able to help you out? Just because you’re an Elf means you’re automatically too racist to associate with other peoples? Clearly he isn’t so bad if he wants the same thing you do for the world (that is to rid the land of more seriously bad guys).

PvP is, not surprisingly, focused on putting players in a position to kill each other. Often when you implement a PvP focus into your game you destroy some key elements of PvE that keep it engaging and versatile. Being cut off from half of the players on your server is never fun when you can’t find a group as a tank and their groups have an excess of healers, and there’s really no need for this division- except to perpetuate the PvP mindest of “us against them.” The worst part, to me, is having PvE content limited by PvP activity. In Wintergrasp in WoW you have to win a large PvP battle every two hours to be able to access one of the level 80 raids. For PvE players that have no interest in PvP this is either forcing them to rely on the whim of their faction’s PvP players or do something they don’t want to do in order to access content.

WoW’s cutscene where Highlord Bolvar Fordragon (By far my favorite Human in the game :() dies when he challenges Arthas showed a brief moment of cooperation between the factions in the interactions between two important NPCs, but that cooperation has never been realized for the players. I think that this is wrong, and that the PvP focus of WoW destroys what could be a much more engaging PvE game. I’m not WoW-hating, mind you, I simply believe that any game that has a focus on PvE (Not even exclusively! PvP can be present!)should be static-faction-free to keep PvE play engaging and free of the taint of PvP influence.

Blog on, Blog off

September 19, 2009

Well I’m back! For a little while anyway. Life has slowed down significantly and I find myself with a lot more time on my hands than I know what to do with once more. I let myself be convinced to go back to WoW (BIG MISTAKE! (for me)) and when I heard LOTRO had a new expansion coming out I figured it was time to pay it another visit. Oh, and EVE is in there somewhere mixed into all of this. Getting back into MMOs basically means getting back into blogging about them because I can’t participate without thinking way too much about them and wanting to talk to people about them, and I don’t want to bore players that just want to play to death! 😀

I was going to add this ->((((BUT! BEFORE YOU STOP READING!!! This does have a point besides the obligatory “I’m back” post.)))) but I realized that I was far too tired to tie logical strings together (It took me a while to figure it out, I had a good few paragraphs but they ended up going nowhere). I was going to post a link to Ysharros’ place, so I figured I should still do that- It’s one of the more enjoyable blogs I have read and everyone else should read it too! 😀

So I’m back! For a while at least 🙂