Archive for April, 2009

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Keen says what I said a month ago, Syncaine takes offense, I simply theorize and find a way to “aid” Darkfall

April 18, 2009

I hate to be the person who goes, “I told you so,” in arguments, but I believe that I need to do it in this situation.

I motherf$&%ing told you so a month ago.  But all y’all thought I was a giant jerk who couldn’t see the light of Darkfall‘s sandbox.  People were so busy bashing me for being a “Darkfall hater” that they were too blind to see that I really did play the game, enjoyed parts of it, but critiqued portions of the fundamental game that didn’t hold up to the main objective.

What was that line that I printed when Darkfall was launched?  Where was it?  Oh, was it this one?

While combat is pretty nifty and lag free, the monster AI is pretty awesome, and the exploration factor is phenominal, this game has huge incentive problems.

Once again, I don’t want to be the jerk of the blog, but I’m just kinda pissed that I got trounced on for saying the same thing Keen did just because I said it a month earlier, and because I represent the “big, bad, corporate MMO site.”  Keen has now said, and I quote:

For a game that is built around being a faster pace action oriented game, everything leads players to play at a slower pace.  I can travel from one side of the map to the other, but why would I?  There is no destination, purpose, or incentive.

Sound familiar?  (Btw, before you comment, please get Keen’s entire perspective by reading his post.  I think I got a good cut here, but I don’t want to take his thoughts out of context.)  Ok, on a less acidic note, I’m agreeing with Keen’s perspective on the game.  I don’t hate Darkfall and I’ve always said it has potential, but Aventurine needs to step it up.  Sadly, their track record doesn’t provide much indication that they will.

On the other side of the Internetz, Syncaine, the author of Hardcore Casual, freaked out a bit more than I thought he would on the subject.  Usually I find myself loving Syncaine’s posts, but I finally found one that I didn’t really agree with.

In short, he blames Keen’s problems on the fact that he’s in a giant alliance.  He thinks Keen should take the bull by the horns and go out and do things, rather than “relying on the game’s rules.”  It’s a heated post, in my opinion, and I don’t think Syncaine wished for it to come out like that, but who am I to say what Syncaine’s real opinion is.

When push comes to shove, however, I think Keen and Syncaine are both right in their own ways.  The difference is that I think Keen is getting to the heart of the matter while Syn is beating around the bush.  Players need reasons to beat the hell out of one another.

Syn brings up ad-hoc skirmishes — one of my favorite things about the sandbox design.  If you do it right, you actually lure players into exhibiting types of behavior.  They don’t realize it, but the best sandboxes are those structured to provide “toys” to attract people.  Dungeons, declared territory, points of interest — these are the things that should lure players there and then spark conflict.  How that conflict ends and proceeds is up to the player, hence the concept of sandbox.  The developer provides the tools, however subtle, and the player finishes the story.

The sandbox is not “make up shit so you have fun.”  Players should not actively have to consider “what can I do that’s fun?”  They should be able to see their own goals and forge on ahead.  For example, “There’s a mine with rare loot in it over the next hill.  I should get some of that.”  There’s the goal.  The developer never wrote the goal down for the player, or told the player that that is the goal.  The player found a point of interest (the mine) and has chosen to get a reward from it (the rare ore.)  How the player conducts themselves is now in the player’s hands.  Other people may interfere or may cooperate or may simply not engage, and that’s the nature of the sandbox.

Keen has gotten to the heart of that by saying, “there should be incentive, like rare ore in a neutral town.”  Because Darkfall provides everything everywhere, there’s no drive to go out and put your stuff at risk.  No rare items to fight over, unlike Darkfall’s sister game, EVE Online.  EVE provides areas with really awesome resources.  What happens in those areas?  Everybody wants them.  Conflict sparks, the sandbox is filled, and players have a good time without having to go out and actively seek “a good time.”  Players who don’t have the resources want it so they can use it, and players with the resource fortify their resource with weapons made from other resources.  It’s a giant wonderful circle of spending.

Syncaine wants people to go out and be more active.  That’s what Keen and I want; we want people to get out and be active.  Activity sparks opportunity.  But if you already have everything, as Keen’s alliance may have, then what do you need to be active for?  You have it all.  You have your resources, your building your weapons, your defending what you have because you don’t want to lose it.  Too many people are in that state in Darkfall, which now leads to sit, stare, and bitch.

If you have a city, have people mining, foresting, and herbing, have a crafter and have guards… what more do you need?  You have the ability to make what you need with all of that.  EVE made sure that wasn’t possible.  Whoops, Aventurine.

So, lastly, I’ll leave you with my idea.  One that would most likely spark some conflict, because Keen brought this up on Syncaine’s post.  Keen said that he has 12+ people in his clan on all the time, and it’s no fun going out and having 12 vs. 1 battles.  I agree.  The situation is not fun and the rewards are probably not worth it.   You go out, kill the guy, and you probably have better stuff than he does.  You take it, it goes into your bank, it does nothing.

But what if you could de-craft an item.  Disassemble it into component parts.  Now, that chainmail that no one’s going to use could be disassembled into a few things of metal.  Metal that you could put towards your bigger objectives, like a siege engine.  What would a little change like that cause?

My bet would be that there would be a rise in conflict.  I, basically, just turned all players into mobile crafting nodes.  Groups would go out looking for blood because they could add to their war coffer in a productive way.  This means larger groups would clash in ad-hoc combat.  I would go so far to bet that even commerce would go up, as a crafter could sell his items to a guild and the guild could disassemble them for their own needs.  Crafter gets his rank ups, guild gets some resources.

Would you get 5 metal from a piece of armor that used 5 metal to make?  Of course not, you need dimishing returns, but you all get my drift on this.  It’s not rocket science to provide incentive.

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Play our shitty game, because we have hot womenz!

April 14, 2009

shittygame1Ok…. seriously… your marketing department officially blows.

Game site or pr0n site?  YOU DECIDE, READERS!

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All hail the modern MMO gamer — a twitchy, frothy mess

April 14, 2009

A brand new post over at Tobold’s place got me thinking today.  I’m one of those people who harp on how the letters RP are being forsaken in the acronym MMORPG, but I mostly focus on story and improvisational acting.  I’m more about the situation and the experience than I am the fat loot or the power.  But I realized something else in that post that Tobold put up — RPGs are losing their tactical background as well.

WoW, LotRO, and the other games just like it are all fine and dandy, but they are missing that element of tactical thinking.  Standing around and doing a gimmick is not tactical combat at its finest, nor is calculating the arc of the next arrow you’re about to fire from 50 feet.  There is a happy medium somewhere in there, but that’s still not the point.  The point is that our games are losing that tactical edge.

Tobold is right — take the gimmicks away from the boss fights in WoW and your skills don’t matter.  You end up with a whole UI loaded with junk and crazy people attempting to theorycraft their way out of a virtual paper bag.  It all comes down to what armor your wearing at the time, because that’s what WoW does to make sure people don’t get ahead of themselves.  (Because content lockdown via random item drops is the best thing a game designer can make.)

People don’t want to take the time anymore to actually deal with tactics and calm gameplay — one of the reasons of the death of the turn-based RPG system.  But I hate the assumption made amongst people that real time combat is somehow “better” than turn-based tactical combat.  They’re two very different flavors of gaming ice cream.  Some people prefer one, other people prefer both, but it never means that one is greater than the other.  They both offer two different experiences.

I would, however, like to see a return of a turn-based system.  It allows developers to control where the characters are during battles, allowing for some really cinematic fights and amazing magical effects.  It also allows developers to get back to challenging gamers logic senses rather than how many times they can faceroll on their keyboard.  You can also put skills inside menus, dropping the compulsive need to have an entire screen filled with buttons, charts, and whistles with a small little window to see where your character is standing.  (The main reason I don’t go grabbing random mods and rely on intuition during raids.  I like to actually SEE my game.)

Right now, all I have left to hold is basically Final Fantasy XI and EVE Online.  Both feature slower battle systems that allow players to make tactical maneuvers regarding combat, rather than being based on who can press “1” faster than the other.   FFXI even has the skillchain system, which triggers bursts of elemental damage when players use weapon skills one after another that match certain combinations of elements.  It requires some coordination and thinking on behalf of the party, but it’s 10x of fun when you get one to go off and completely wreck your enemy.

I look forward to the day where I can engage in a game with a great story that me and my friends can get into, paired with exciting, dramatic turn-based combat that is worthy of a cinematic movie.  That’s what I originally thought MMORPGs were going to become… but I guess I was very wrong.

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I can’t say I agree with you, Mr. Kaplan

April 11, 2009

So, for those of you who may not know, Jeff Kaplan did this big panel at the Game Developers Conference that was all about quest design relating to World of Warcraft.  While the talk was, as a whole, really awesome, there was one part specifically where I found myself disagreeing strongly with Jeff.  That part was video games as a medium for story.

As a person who absolutely adores story in video games, I found that whole section to be really off.  I can get what he’s saying — people need to calm themselves down and just not write as much in those little quest boxes — but it didn’t come off like that.  Especially the line, “Don’t be Shakespeare in video games.”

Being a good story writer in video games means being sometimes brief, but always being inventive.  You need to capture the player with your writing, not overload them with meaningless drivel and huge word counts.  And, above all, the design itself needs to nurture the writing, otherwise people are just going to skip right over it because you’re not sending them the right message.

Take, for example, the standard “Kill 10 rats” quest.  In original World of Warcraft, we saw a heavy usage of attempting to wrap story around these horrible, horrible quests.  “I got chased out of my home by some kobolds, so I need you, the hero, to kill 10 of them so I can go back into my house.”  It doesn’t matter how good the storyline is with that quest… it’s still a shitty kill 10 rats quest.

Story and design need to go hand in hand.  If it’s an epic story, then it better have some epic design to it.  I better feel that I am truly following some grand path when I’m doing that quest, otherwise your writing comes off really overblown and unnecessary.

Jeff, later in his panel, pointed to the success of the Death Knight questline.  His reasons for it being a better string of quests was because of better design — and he’s right to a point.  But what also helps that questline be so absolutely amazing is the writing and overall plot arc that went into it.  Sure, some of the quests in that long chain have the standard “grab X of this”, “kill X of that” but they’re all enveloped in this wide goal of completely destroying the Scarlet Crusade.  Phasing goes a long way in making these types of quests “feel” amazing for the player, because they can see how their actions are affecting the story.  The player now has an impact and can see the story unraveling before them in more ways than just a stupid quest box.

I think that’s the overall goal of storytelling in interactive spaces — make the player feel it.  Books have stories that come off of the page and envelop the reader, why can’t we do the same thing in video games and do it 10x better?  We let the player play in a beautiful imaginative space.  We have more ways of relating story besides 511 characters in the quest pane.  Why don’t we actually go out and embrace them, rather than just throwing players into meaningless encounters just so they can get that special piece of equipment.

When we stop using the carrot on a stick motivation and start using actual emotional motivations for players, then we’ll be our own modern day Shakespeares.  Don’t say something is bad just because your game sucked at it for 2 expansions.