Monday, January 31, 2011

Minecraft Got Me

Minecraft got me. Suddenly, unexspected. I have no idea why. Combat in Minecraft is rudimentary at best. I play it in single player right now, with the usual psychological penalthies to 'meaning'.

The graphics are .. not even rudimentary: They are terrbile. I usually don't care about architecture and I am not really a builder in any MMORPG. And still, I cannot stop thinking about about how to keep those monsters off. Another moat? A stair to the sky? How deep can I dig? Did I find a dungeon!! Another trap for monsters? How can I get the cattle inside the fence? Is it night again? I need more coal!

If this game doesn't have some influence on virtual worlds I seriously don't know what will! Think about this kind of gameplay wrapped inside a meaningful virtual world!

Do you know how expensive it is to have designers create castles for you and allow you to put them on some prepared ground? Very expensive - and inferior! Let the community build the castle! Give me rights to touch that part of the castle, add guards so other players cannot touch our castle without repercussions .. Slow everything down a bit, make the cubes smaller, and .. grand new world ;)

Honesty, take the sandbox from minecraft, the item crafting from "A Tale in the Desert", the combat gameplay from Word of Warcraft and the economy and community building from EVE Online. Put everything inside a polished(!) AAA-MMORPG virtual world and you will drown in money! This game is a milestone in C-gaming. I'd almost call it next-gen virtual world, if that weren't so silly.

If you haven't bought minecraft yet, do it now! Those 15€ are really, really worth it! Even if only for understanding what everybody is talking about. Just take a look at the tutorial videos on the page and off you go. Don't miss this.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sandboxes Without Sand

When you read MMORPG-related blogs you will occasionally stumble across one that tells you that WoW is actually not just a great themepark, but quite a good sandbox, too. You just need to make it one! It is all in your head. The blogs usually argue that you can, for example, explore.

But exploring is not really something sandbox specific. After all, you can also explore a box without sand if it has any interesting, but fixed, structure inside. Can be fun, is fun for a while in WoW, but sandbox? No.

Alternatively, you can skill a profession while at any level. But training a profession doesn't really change the sand in the box. It just changes you. And nobody sane would deny that WoW gives the player ways to change his character. The entire endgame is about building a char with the help of loot. But sandbox? No.

What else can you do? Mmh.. you can hunt mobs. Old style grinding! Sandbox? Not really. Killing mobs in WoW is like a quantum fluctuation in real life. For a short time you can remove the mob from the world and then BÄM. There it is again. It is like removing a corn of sand, and a few moment later the corn respawns where it was and always will be.

Sometimes 'sandbox' is confused with 'emergent gameplay'. After all you can contact a few buddies, go to Stormwind, pick some guys on the way and kill some peoples' characters. Yeah. I agree that WoW offers a bit of emergent gameplay. Blizzard couldn't completely stop players from doing something else than collecting loot in instances. But while emergent gameplay may be something typically associated with sandboxes, it actually doesn't even require any sand. So, emergent gameplay is great, but, on its own, doesn't make a game a sandbox.

What else? Let me think.
In WoW you can create a guild. By creating and shaping guilds, players in WoW can shape their community. So the box allows the players to not only be inside, but also create relationships. That is not too bad unless, unless.. every MMO I have ever known allows you to create guilds! And, sandbox? Well, where's the sand in that?

Recently people came up with a new type of sandbox gameplay: Phasing. You have an influence on the world! You kill that guy and the world changes. Now.. that is hard. Because, because .. this is some kind of phantom sand. Sand that can be rearranged, but only by you and if you do it, the changes are only visible to you. Look, the point about a sandbox is not that you can rearrange the sand on your monitor, but on other peoples' monitors. And that is exactly what phasing doesn't do.

What if we ignore quests? Wouldn't WoW be a sandbox if nobody told you what to do? Well, no. Look, sandbox means "box with sand". It doesn't mean that there's nothing to do. In fact, most games that are referred to as sandbox have quests, sometimes called missions. The difference between a sandbox and a themepark is not that the sandbox doesn't offer you something to do, but that you can reshape the sand in the sandbox. Try moving that water track over there in a themepark. Doesn't work. Guided gameplay is usually associated with themeparks and unguided is associated with sandboxes, but that's really not the difference between the two.

So is WoW a sandbox? Now, that really depends on what a sandbox is. I mean, metaphorically spoken WoW is a box. I agree. I also agree that there might be sand. Unfortunately this sand has been submerged in some kind of gluten. You cannot change the shape of the sand! It is all fixed! All you can do is change yourself or shape the social relationships of the various players in the box.

Now, changing your character can be fun. Quite obviously it is fun for millions of players! But that is just not a sandbox. A sandbox allows you to change the way the sand is arranged. That is why we use sand in sandboxes and not styrofoam. Even though a box filled with styrofoam can be very fun to explore if it is just large enough.

A fantasy sandbox allows you to create castles, declare borders, remove trees, build houses, build ships,..
And, usually a sandbox also allows you to destroy all of that, because otherwise all the sand of the box would eventually be used up and there has been something built everywhere. Now, that would look rather terrible and also prevent people from creating new stuff. So the sandbox ceased to a be a sandbox.

I hope the next time you read some blog about how you can remove all content from WoW to make it a sandbox you know better. A sandbox, actually, can offer a themepark within. Some part made of styrofoam. It doesn't hurt and can even help with accessibility. But there is certainly no such thing like a sandbox without any sand. And removing styrofoam doesn't add any sand.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quoted for Truth

So my mom wanted to know when I got so good at writing. Well to me it's pretty obvious: I spent 5 years or so in various formats arguing with idiots about video games. It's a lot like leveling up weapon skill before they removed the Servants of Razelikh. Find a target which is immune to all attacks, or in the case of internet forums, facts and logic, and then fire away. You will never accomplish anything, but you'll get very good at it.

Just needed to link this. Damn,

Lylirra and the Information Curse

Lylirra, a blue poster at Blizzard wrote a comment a few days ago:

We're definitely looking into ways to add more information about raid and dungeon bosses directly into the game client. For example, as discussed at BlizzCon 2010 in the Raids and Dungeons panel, we're already discussing the possibility of incorporating loot tables and boss abilities into zone maps. While "enhanced maps" are still in their formative stages, we love the idea of a player being able to access a variety of information about a specific boss -- including what it drops, what abilities it has, and maybe even some lore about who it is and why everyone in Azeroth wants to kill it -- just by opening her map and mousing over an icon.

This is all still on the horizon, of course, and would likely be something that's implemented in stages. Nevertheless, we agree that the game could provide better tools for players who are adapting to new content and are currently working to bridge that gap for the future (in a meaningful way that doesn't undermine or spoil the experience).

Join James Portnow, Daniel Floyd and Allison Theus from the Escapist Magazine made this stunning video some time ago.

Take your time ...

It was hard to find a title for this post, because it touches so many topics. I chose "Information Curse" once again, because that's really where it affects us, the consumers. As you can see Blizzard is not content with people having to look up things on the internet. And rightly so! New players should have all necessary information available without googling for them.

But how does Blizzard fight this problem? They just put everything in the client. All of it! I cannot really become upset anymore about my character knowing stuff about bosses he has never seen. This problem runs much deeper! It is not just some immersion problem. It is a fundamental gameplay problem, too! Extra Credits successfully demonstrate that except for calculations there are two ways to make choice interesting in games: Incomplete information and incomparables. What they miss to state is that for everybody who is bad enough at mathematics, every calculation becomes an incomparable. Unless, unless there is the internet!

This always was Blizzards big problem with talent trees and rotations and priority systems in World of Warcraft. With Cataclysm they sacrificed a lot of the talent tree mathematics (no problem, I guess) for a few more incomparables. But the real problem are not the talent trees, but the boss encounters. (Are there any other encounters in WoW? Sad! But another topic!)

Instead of telling you exactly what you need to do, Blizzard should try to add a few more incomparables. For example they could give DDs ways to take significantly less damage when dealing significant less dps and make encounters require them to do so!

But my favourite solution are Incomplete Information Problems! Also called: Unpredictability.
If you don't know whether the next boss does magic damage you have no way to optimize your talent tree. If you don't know whether the next encounter requires maximum dps or survivability or many tanks, you need to make an interesting decision. That decision must not be arbitrary. You should still have enough information to make an educated guess! It shouldn't feel like Ludo!

But by surrendering to the internet Blizzard let's go of an entire class of meaningful choices! And there are only two! Imagine what Incomplete Information Problems could accomplish in the context of an MMORPG! Stealth would gain a new meaning! Information gathering in general. Spells that (vaguely!) describe a mob's capabilities, clairvoyance, and much, much more. Unpredictability also makes games much more resistent to balance problems! If you don't know whether you need a paladin or a rogue, due to their special abilities, you'd better take both with you on the trip. Even if one of them is better 70% of the time, you might need the other one for the remaining 30%.

To say this very clearly: This is not about immersion (only). This is about pure gameplay choices. If you knew exactly the sequence of blocks in Tetris, Tetris became a calculation and you could look up the perfect 'moves' on the internet. You cannot, because Tetris demands that you make choices based on incomplete information. As does Soccer, Boxing, even Chess, because it is too complex to calculate! Can you come up with even one successful game that does not demand that the player makes choices based on incomplete information?

PS: Some of the Extra Credit Videos are extremely good. Have a look!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Descartes, damn you!

Second post of the day. Not good. People will now ignore the first one. *thinking*. I am not here to grind commenters. Stupid!

First I'd like to document an idea so that I don't forget it: What about making CC (crowd control) a small minigame. Isn't it a pity that it is fire and forget at the moment?

Now to the unrelated main topic:
Am I kiddin' myself? Honestly, maybe I don't even want a MMORPG to be immersive or credible, or consistent or 'worldy' or fallout-like or whatever. Maybe I am a bit fatuous? I mean: I still play WoW. For the 6th (?) year in a row with some breaks, of course.

You know, if you have a blog that is about game design, but is mostly known for championing 'immersion' in MMORPGs, you are quite prone to stop having any doubts. After all I have a stake in this. This is not good.

Perhaps I actually love the LFD in WoW, would hate any travel without teleports and couldn't stand organizing a group to do any group content. One thing in my defense would be that I actually played and liked classic WoW. But Cataclysm wasn't available back then, so this argument reaches only so far.

I tried EVE online, but didn't like the UI, didn't like the RMT and didn't like the CPP mechanic. And that was enough to leave it? Come on! How many things do you claim to not like about WoW?

I tried Dawntide beta. Great concept, no money. Still have it installed. Discussed a lot in the forums. Some over there claimed that I was a WoW fanboy. Mmmh. I don't play Dawntide. The character animations were terrible.

I haven't even bothered to install Minecraft! The current showpiece of sandbox design. Why? Don't like the graphics. No, that is not shallow, I just don't have enough time to play all these ... indie projects.

I never tested A Tale in the Desert, even though it is a pretty good sandbox game as far as I know. But it doesn't offer combat and I am too simple minded to enjoy a game that is about architecture. I am the kind of guy who couldn't tell you the difference between New York and London unless the Eiffel Tower was in front of his eyes. I just don't care very much about how things look. .. What did I just say about Minecraft?

I tried Warhammer. Warhammer had relatively epic battles, server identity, I certainly had some fun for a month. Before I left, I wrote a forum rant that this game cannot have any future, because there was no endgame. I turned out to be correct, didn't I?

I stopped playing Age of Conan even before I reached max level, because I couldn't stand the monster grind at high levels. They all looked the same. But I sure would have loved original Everquest ...
Also the whole PvP was totally unbalanced and RvR was not working back then. Graphics were nice. I got a headache from the unimmersive light-show animations. Yeah! Clearly not immersive enough! Ha ha!

Life's hard sometimes. I should probably discuss more in the Dawntide forums to explain to these people that skill based character progression systems may be more immersive, but turn out to be too hard to balance.

Sometimes I get comments by people who are even more pro-immersion than I am. I am actually very serious about the "A MMORPG has to be as immersive, credible and consistent as possible and as little as necessary."

Trying to defend myself:
I like computer games. I liked Tetris, Super Mario, Duke Nukem, Doom, Quake, Sim City, Civilisation,...

I loved Counter Strike for the relentless realism. Most people don't often think about it, but Counter Strike is one of the most successful computer games ever. And it is a realism* approach par excellence!
Before Counter Strike, what do you think how those game studios had reacted to your proposal: "Headshots kill players instantly"? Well, Counter Strike made them stop laughing! Of course, that is not the reason for the popularity. The reason is the gameplay. But Counter Strike uses gameplay mechanics that allow the credibility, consistency and immersion to make it even better, doesn't it?

When discussing MMORPGs and thinking about the world vs. gameplay aspects I basically hope that someone manages to make a game like Counter Strike: Very immersive, convincing, credible, consistent and great gameplay inspired by these values!

*'realism' is a special case that is very consistent, credibile and immersive. I usually try to avoid the word, as people instantly come up with the 'fireballs aren't realistic, either' statement.

Character Power Progression (CPP)

I have some topics in a queue right now, which happens rarely. There's just too much good stuff to blog about at the moment and I only have time for one post a day.

There's this brilliant post by "Killed in a Smiling Accident"
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.
He wonderfully described the obvious problem. But what is the solution?

Let's try to make a more abstract ansatz:
- Good gameplay is balanced. That is, it provides a reasonable challenge.
- MMORPGs use character power progression (CPP)
a) to move you through the 'story' in a predefined direction
b) to reward you (for hitting the buttons in the skinner box)

From these points it automatically follows that as your character becomes stronger, so must your enemies. WoW-WotLK actually tried to do it the other way: You would really overpower all your enemies the stronger you get. It was terrible gameplay in the open world, but especially in 'heroic' dungeons. And since good gameplay is the basis for any game, Blizzard rightfully corrected the issue.

The only screw left which we can turn to adjust the whole thing is the speed of the CPP. And here comes that big question: Isn't the CPP in most modern MMORPGs a bit too fast? Wouldn't it be better for gameplay and immersion alike to have a slower character power progression? Wouldn't it be ok to easily defeat that level 10 wolf, without totally annhilating it? Now that I am writing about it - I discussed this before. Have a look here - bullet point (4) and here.

Can you think of reasons for this extreme character power progression in current MMORPGs, other than the assumption that players want to 'feel' a jump in power everytime they pick up an item?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are MMORPGs Actually Games ?

That is a question I wanted to discuss for a long time. See, I often use Chess to make a point about MMORPGs, because it is well known and most people agree that it is one of the best games ever created. But are MMORPGs actually games?

Games consist of
- equipment,
- players,
- goals,
- and rules that constrain the player from reaching the goals in a fun way.

For a classic game like Chess this is easy:
The board and its pieces are the equipment, the players are, well, the players, the goal is to drop the opposing king and the rules tell you how to do it, severely reducing your options.

A MMORPG, however, is different and that difference lies in the simulation-like character. A MMORPG still has equipment, your computer, the servers, even the devs, if you want. It has players, obviously, but does it have goals?

Many small ones perhaps, but usually a MMORPG does not have one big goal, like Chess or Soccer or the Settlers From Catan or even Boxing.

And rules? You might be inclined to say "yes, of course a MMORPG has rules", but actually, that is not so clear. In Chess or Soccer there are things you could do, but are not allowed to do by the rules. There are no such things in an MMORPG! All those things you can do, you are allowed to do. What one would traditionally consider a rule seems actually more like part of the equipment here.

It is as if there were an invisible force that kept you from moving the queen like a knight. That invisible force would be part of the equipment not part of the rules, wouldn't it? Is the fact that you can or cannot teleport a rule or a property of the equipment? Is the fact that you cannot move your queen to Qk1 a rule or a limitation of the equipment? Are the only rules in a MMORPG then that you are not allowed to cheat, hack or to exploit? Interesting questions I think, but probably without consequence. The distinction between rules and equipment can sometimes become blurred.

What is more interesting is how the non-existence of a higher-ranking goal influences MMORPGs. You see, good rules are fun, because they constrain players from reaching a goal in a fun way. But if you have no goal, then how do you design fun rules?

The answer is that it is all much more complicated in an MMORPG. There are goals, just not one higher-ranking one. Instead, the goals appear naturally while the simulation runs its course. The most trivial example is you meeting a 'monster'. That 'monster' attacks you and to 'die' is now considered to 'loose'. Suddenly there is a goal, like 'defeat the monster' or 'escape as unharmed as possible'. But this goal is setup by the player. The designer has some influence, but ultimately the player decides what he wants to do.

But how did the player even get there? What was his goal before he met the 'monster'? There must have been a goal .. must there not ? Actually, I think .. no. And that is where the simulation-like character comes in. The player might have been on the search for fun in an amazing fantasy world. But this 'search for fun' is not really his goal. It might not even be a conscious effort.

What does the simulation-like character mean?
It means that the designer has a bonus. Chess wouldn't work if the players had to 'have fun', but were not given a goal during the first half of the game. Neiter would Soccer work if the trainer told the players "to start playing and have fun and create goals along the way".

But in MMORPGs this can work! Things can be fun, even though there is no gameplay at all! If fact, things can be fun, even though there is rather bad gameplay at work! Things like having the option to explore a vast landscape can add to the fun, even if the player doesn't do it or even plans to never do it. Part of the fun a player draws from the simulation-like character of an MMORPG comes from participating in a story, like beating the Lich King. The fact that the healing game in itself isn't much fun, can be very successfully overlayed with the simulation-like character.

Moreover, in traditional MMORPGs the simulation-like character is the glue that connects and permeats the various minigames, like maximizing gold, killing 'monsters', building a house or earning a social reputation among other players.

The simulation-like character determines how those minigames work together and thus should be chosen carefully. The very second a player starts to participate in just one minigame and starts to min/max to reach the now apparent goals, the MMORPG has lost a lot of what makes it special. It has lost the fun-bonus it once had. The player will now mercilessly assess your gameplay and if it is flawed he will become unhappy.

No MMORPG has ever kept players away from eventually picking one minigame and trying to 'beat' it. So better make sure that your minigames employ good gameplay. But at the same time remember that the interconnectiveness of the various minigames can make this much harder than in any traditional game. And try to use the glue, the simulation-like character of MMORPGs, to your advantage as much as possible.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vulnerability to Balance Problems

Eldergame started an age-old class-based or skill-based discussion some days ago. I always wanted to write about that, but I don't think I will, because Eric said it all.

First things first: I agree with him. I sympathize with skill-based systems, but they never really work out for exactly the reasons Eric lists.

The post, rightfully, got a lot of attention. So for further reading have a look here.
Stylish Corpse
Rampant Games
Aim for the Head
Tish Tosh Tesh
Troll Racials are Overpowered
Fun in Games

Using classes instead of skills is actually part of a higher-ranking design rule: Don't just balance your game, but use mechanics that make it resistant to balance problems.

I'll give you a well-known example: World of Warcraft and its Arena.
I extensively played PvP in classic WoW; both open PvP and battlegrounds. There were balance problems, for sure. Especially with late PvE equipment. But generally balance was not so much of an issue and even though I played a fire mage who dreamt of Molten Core equipment, I never had a problem with the balance. I already wrote about that, here.
But the second I started to do TBC arenas, balance problems were everywhere.

What this means is that a game can be vulnerable or resistant to balance problems. And, obviously, you want your game to be resistant to them. There is a connection with The Information Curse. The internet helps people min/maxing and while that can be fun for a while it is always a danger to the developer. Fortunately, the developer can sabotage min/maxing by splitting up communities and including unpredictability into his game.

The benefit is clear: A game that is resistant to balance problems not only requires less manpower to develop and sustain. It also allows for mechanics that are theoretically exploitable, but practically are not exploited. These mechanics can be a lot of fun. For example a paladin that does more damage vs. undead. In the framework of international competition such a thing is not sustainable. But on a server that inhabits a few hundred players it can turn out to be great, immersive and not much a problem at all.

Things that help make a game resistant to balance problems:
- Low focus on competition between players
- No official forum
- Little information for the players. No detailed combat log
- Separated servers with slightly differing content / rule sets. If implemented wisely
- Classes that rely on each other, have a look here
- Heavily homogenized classes
- ...

These things are interchangeable! And every one, on its own, will make your game less fun, but at the same time every one allows you to make the game more fun. E.g. do you rather want homogenized classes (Cataclysm) or classes that rely on each other (TBC)?

Bottom line is this:
Try to make your game resistant to balance problems. There is no free launch here, but some measures can fit your game better than others.

Edit: Heavily edited after publishing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Travel Done Right

In the last post I pointed out that developers of MMORPG virtual words should try to create gameplay mechanics that make use of immersion. I also discussed the example of travel. In this post I will venture deeper into travel and how to make it 'right'.

This is basically a long list of bullet points which I hope to make even longer with the help of commenters ;).

- To make travel more fun it must feel natural. I wrote about that before. The player must not ask why he must travel, because it should be obvious to them that to get from A to B one has to travel.

- Travel can be made meaningful by trade. Especially long-range trade. If you can carry with you some goods to sell at your destination, the travel time does not feel 'wasted'. There have been whole games in the past that did nothing but allow you to become rich by travel.

- The game must not send you from one corner of the world to the other for some irrelevant task, like a standard-quest. Instead, the game must respect the distance as it exspects you to respect it. For example NPCs can point out that city X is really very far away and they know nothing about it. No guy in old Cairo would have send somebody to Rome without exspecting an epic and maybe dangerous journey. No guy should do it in your game.

- If traveling on a ship the game could allow you to fish for fish that are not available otherwise. The fish shouldn't be too valuable, though. You don't want people to travel so they can fish.

- The way you travel could change. For example there could be some avalanche blocking your way or some routes be impassable (or too risky) during winter/summer. The developers could sporadically, without mentioning it, change the map in a credible way.

- A less immersive idea with a lot of gameplay potential, though, is to make every travel individual by randomizing the map you have to travel.

- There should be fast and dangerous, and slow and secure routes. Thus, enableing you to make an interesting decision.

- The game could encourage grouping, but not enforce it for travel. Moreover, the game could help players to organize a caravan. This would then be a rather safe, but slow way to travel, that allows you to transport more goods.

- The game could sometimes encourage players to transport good X to city Y to make a lot of profit. But only if they are fast enough.

- PvP can be be used to 'spice it up' .. but this is really, really tricky. You certainly don't want people to not travel, because playing bandit is so much more rewarding and thus so many more people do it!

- Rivial city states could hire you to fight for them for money. Part of that 'quest' is to go to where their war takes place.

- A very important point is that players still need something to do whenever they log in. You cannot have a game like WoW just scrap teleports. A '15min battleground' doesn't make sense if the travel there takes 30min. This is actually a topic for another post: Any game needs to offer things that can be done right now, later, in the far furture, etc.

- Some travel routes can be used to allow the player relax. The original WoW travel was like that. If you do this, allow the player to see whether he is now safe or not. Don't try to spice relaxing travel up with some PvE/PvP attack that requires the player to be in front of his computer.

- ...

What else can you think of ?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Immersion and Annoyance

Muckbeast has an interesting topic today. He askes: "But how do you strike a balance that maintains immersion without being needlessly annoying?"

I already commented on his blog, but think this is important enough to make an own blog post here. A lot of players think that immersion and annoyance are somehow the two sides of one coin. And partially they are correct, of course.

But for a developer there is an entirely different question to answer.
What gameplay mechanics do I need to allow my game to be immersive without being annoying?

Example: Just removing teleports from WoW would make WoW more immersive, sure. But it would also be annoying as hell. Better to also add a few new gameplay mechanics: Long range trade, Caravans, enough content in your local vicinity, rival city states, exploration, …

The reasoning doesn't go like "Distances are annoying, how do we get rid of them?". Instead it goes like: "Distances are annoying right now. How do we make them more fun and meaningful?"

You see, gameplay and immersion are not foes. A good game uses and invents gameplay mechanics that allow for immersion to be fun.

What's wrong with Heroics

Answer: The daily quest.

The daily quest creates a terrible expectation in the player! An expectation regarding himself! And a lot of players thus disappoint themselves.

Somebody who used to do his daily heroic after work before eating with his family is unable to do his Cataclysm heroic, but feels like he is expected to do it. Moreover, he feels like losing 70 valor points whenever he doesn't do his daily heroic. When doing something else in WoW before eating with the family he feels like wasting his time.

As so often in MMORPGs, the problem is rarely the thing itself. It is the environment that is incompatible with it. Heroics would be great if they felt optional; like I could do them voluntarily, like dungeons in classic. They don't feel like that. The fact that we come from late WotLK heroics adds to the problem.

What Blizzard needs to learn is that fun is not an inherent property of an isolated activity. Heroics are great right now. As are raids. But the environment they are embedded in (the rest of the game + player base) is important, too. And right now this environment pulls players into a direction many players don't want to go: Doing a heroic of significant difficulty and potential time requirement every day.

The fact that the leveling game feels extra easy doesn't help either.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

40 Minute Queue Time for DDs

Tobold once again manages to start a fiery discussion in the blogosphere by asserting something bizzare and then claiming that he honestly believes it and has always believed it. What can I say .. Thanks for the nice topic to blog about ?

However, instead of discussing his assertion:
( "You have a social responsibility to play tank/healer in LFD PUGs" ),
I would like to find out, why so few players play a tank/healer in LFD PUGs, in the first place. Because, honestly, I find that a bit strange.

And I am not the only one. Larísa comments:
And actually a part of the enjoyment probably was that I felt less questioned as a healer than as a dps. There's a lot of healer love. A lot of gratitude. And no e-peening. It gives you a very pleasant feeling in the stomach. And if that wasn't enough, if you pair up with a good tank, you've got it all in your hands. You're in power in a way that you never ever are as dps.

This is actually the reason I mostly PUG as tank. Playing a druid I can change my role fairly easy, but I hate to play kitty in PUGs. Those tanks never pull the boss where I can attack it from behind without standing in the fire. If they get out of the fire all!

Tank does't use his interrupts? Doesn't use his cooldowns? Forgets to tank that caster? Such things don't happen when I am the tank.

Playing tank gives me control and authority. You wanna blame me? Be careful, because I need half a second to join the next group. Somebody leaves - even a healer? No problem, there's the next one. Try that with a tank that left your group.
Attitude towards dps in PUGs is terrible. I have yet to try to kick a dps and fail at it. Attitude towards the healer, and especially the tank, is friendly. I have not been kicked ever since the invention of the LFD.

But if I am correct, then why do so few players play tank/healer in PUGs?
Because they shy away from the authority, from the responsibility, from the disturbing fact that they could fail. And they do it out of what Gevlon would call Ape residues :). They are doubtful towards themselves. They don't want to disappoint themselves. Imagine you play a tank (for the first time) and make a mistake!! Imagine the healer points that out! How embarassing!

Moreover, many players do not know the dungeon as well and as a tank you are exspected to make the first step - for good reasons, btw.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wolfshead‘s WoW Bashing

Good criticism differentiates. It does not claim that everything is bad about something, nor does it claim that everything is good. Having said that, I feel with Wolfshead. For six years now MMORPGs move into the wrong direction. From his point of view; from my point of view. They become less and less the kind of game we wish for. But criticism doesn’t work, if you don’t mention what is actually good about MMOs. In this case, we talk, of course, about World of Warcraft.

So, what is my opinion about Blizzard newest expansion: Cataclysm ?
1) Cataclysm is a technically superior single player game for children.
2) At maximum level Cataclysm becomes a technically superior multiplayer game for dedicated adults who like a childish theme.

Is this what Blizzard aimed for? I doubt it. Can it work? We will have to see. If it works it proves Wolfshead’s point: You can throw people into difficult content and they deal with it, and they grow with it, and they have fun learning.

So, why do I feel for Wolfshead? Because World of Warcraft is no MMORPG.
1) It is massive only at indirect interaction (auction house, potential players in the dungeon finder queue).
2) It is no roleplaying game.
3) And most of all, although it is not part of the MMORPG abbreviation: It is not a virtual world; not at all.

The only thing about WoW that is persistent is your character and his social connections. The world suffers from high-frequency resets. Moreover World of Warcraft makes fun of itself all the time. Now, to make fun about fantasy is almost an own genre. So a funny thing every now and then I can live with. But WoW is making fun about itself every step of the way. The goblin starting area may be “concentrated coolness”, but it is not a credible place.

For adults who like Harry Potter, this kind of “concentrated coolness” can be enjoyable. And obviously there are a lot of adults nowadays who like content for children. So Blizzard will be successful with Cataclysm. Their rentention rate certainly suffers at max level, but the players they can keep are loyal.

My prediction for Cataclysm: It will be successful, financially. And it is even an enjoyable game at maxlevel for me. But the very second a technically feasible virtual world is available on our global market I am gone, because WoW requires too much time to be played in addition to a serious virtual world for adults.

My advice for Wolfshead: Differentiate more. Give more reasons. I know that your opinion is not as one-sided as you make it look, because I have read your older posts. But many readers have not. And in the end we want to convince our readers to believe in our perfect MMORPG virtual world, do we not?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Information Curse

My very first computer game was a CRPG. I had a friend who was also into computers, but he did not like that game as much. So I played it alone in front of my computer for about a year. I would make different group compositions and venture forth.

Unfortunately, the game had a copy protection. Whenever you started it, it would ask you questions and you would have to type in an answer that was available only on a sheet of paper that could not be copied. I was in possession of that piece of paper only once, because another friend actually owned that game. To beat the copy protection I had memorized most of the sheet. You might ask why I didn’t write it down and thus copy it manually. Well, it wasn’t necessary. My fascination of the game was great enough to memorize the world-related answers without any effort.

I beat that game only once and it was a big letdown. Mostly I explored and discovered better group compositions. I was about 10 years old. The computer was financed by strictly saving every dime I got for three years.

This is nostalgia. When I think about that game today it boggles my mind what has been so fascinating. Sure, it was a RPG, even a mildly successful one for its time. But what you mostly did was travel and fight. Most fights were the same. The dungeons were mostly the same. Without internet, however, I would sporadically find new content. A new dungeon, a new travel route, a new weapon.

In some way this is similar to my first MMORPG experience; although this was already much less intense. My first MMORPG was (unfortunately) World of Warcraft. I mostly explored in classic WoW. In TBC I organized and min/maxed and then .. well it was over.

I still play World of Warcraft today, but just for the gameplay and the guild; in contrast to the first few years it, indeed, feels like a waste of time. Now, depending on your point of view everything is a waste of time, so I don’t easily give in to such arguments. But there is a difference between things that are a waste of time and things that feel like it, too.

Now, the transition from beginner to expert is inevitable, especially for a grown up. We are just too smart and experienced to be fascinated by content other grown-ups created. But it is still possible. I started to play WoW at the age of 24 and was fascinated!

Oh! And I was not that much fascinated by the massive multiplayer stuff! That mostly interfered with my immersion! I was fascinated by the huge world, the auction house, the variety of things, the lore, the character building and, of course, the refined gameplay. Most of all the persistence of the world and of my character fascinated me. It created meaning. I loved the absence of quicksaving. This is nothing a single player game couldn't have delivered (even better?)

Later I started to like running dungeons and eventually raids with friends. The main reasons were even more aspects of the world, more variety of things, more lore and even more refined gameplay.

So Blizzard are not completely off the track when they sacrifice the "massive experience" in favour of the "gameplay experience". They just overshoot when they sacrifice the "world experience", too.
End of Interlude

What is an even bigger problem than being an adult is the internet. If you stand on the shoulders of giants it is really, really hard to surprise, let alone fascinate you. It is for all practical purposes impossible with games like Cataclysm.
In the beginning of WoW, when there was little internet presence, and I simply didn’t look for it, I was one of the few people on my server who actually tested and calculated the best dps speccs/equipment. There was no recount then – only the combat log. It was a lot of fun!

Cataclysm is a lot more complicated than classic WoW, but I never had to learn stuff on my own. I use an addon that tells me exactly what button I need to press next. On fights like in Blackwing Descent I cannot follow this addon completely, as I also need to interrupt specific 1.5s spells from bosses and save energy for that. That is not at all easy. But the difficulty lies in the execution alone. There is little exploration, learning, tactically or even strategic thinking involved.

When I was about 11 years old I got my hands on a solutions-book for said game. I read through it in an afternoon. It was great to finally read all this stuff that I had discovered for a year! Much to my surprise, there even was a lot of stuff I hadn’t discovered! After I had read that book I never touched the game again. I was spoiled. I had learnt it all reading a book in an afternoon. Now I knew it – all riddles were solved. I got what I wanted in a way that I couldn’t possibly have wanted.

The reason I write this long text are but a few questions: Do we have to accept that all future games focus on execution instead of learning?

Is the fact that we are smart adults with internet access and thrown into a competitive environment where we compare each other in facebook-style every minute of our life, the end of all mystery? The end of all tactics? The end of all exploration?

Shouldn’t the game companies try to create games (worlds) that resist the internet? Shouldn’t we finally have games again that are unpredictable in nature, but still persistent?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Been on vacation during christmas and new year and take a step back from blogging, as you might have noticed.

So just a wonderful link I just found: Demon Souls