Archive for Gaming

Fantasy Fantasy MMO

If I were to set about trying to build yet another fantasy MMORPG, here is what I would do…

I’d start with EVE Online.  There are many reasons for this, the first being that I don’t mind having zones.  Lots of people will tell you that you have to have a giant seamless world, but I always ask them “What seamless worlds are you playing in?”  They always say World of Warcraft.  But they are only half right.  Yes, you can run from one end of a continent to the other without zoning.  You can fly on a griffin or other travel beast and cross no zone lines.  But how do you play the game?  Most people are in instances, dungeons and battlegrounds, and crossing from one continent to another makes you zone.  Warcraft has seams, they’ve just gone a long way to hide them from you.  EVE does too, but thankfully for them their Sci-Fi setting makes it easy to throw up gates and wormholes and faster than light travel and hide them in plain sight.  In my fantasy world, I’d have large sprawling zones.  Some zones would be city zones where a large city rests at the center and is surrounded by farmland and sparse wilderness.  Some zones would be town zones where it is mostly wilderness with a sprinkling of small villages and towns, two to five per zone, just a small cluster of buildings or an inn at a cross roads.  And some zones would be full on wilderness with caves and dungeons and evil.

Players would be able to own and run the small villages and towns, possibly even city blocks in the large cities (but not the whole city – the advantage of controlling part of a city would be in the nearness of so many other people, the disadvantage would be that you have to share the city – think of cities as being the trade hubs of the game).

When you want to leave a zone, you would go to a “crossroads”, of which there might be several on each zone at the edges.  From the crossroads you would use the signpost and it would tell you which zones you could get to from here.  Players would be allowed to choose if their journey was “safe” or “unsafe”.  A “safe” journey would simply zone you directly to your destination.  An “unsafe” journey would randomly generate an adventure zone with one or more encounters that you would need to cross.  These unsafe adventure zones would have two exits, one where you start would be back to where you came from and the one at the other end (not necessarily the opposite side, the path through could wind around and end up anywhere on the zone perimeter) would take you to your destination.

The point here is that there would exist in the game shared content raids (the zones I mentioned earlier with caves and dungeons and evil) with spawn timers and event cycles and so on, and there would exist instanced travel content where a player or group of players (or raid full of players) could go thwart evil unhindered by other players (an added bonus could be that clearing a road of bandits and other nasties could have an impact on the prices of NPC trade goods between the two end points of the journey).  As well there could also be “pocket” zones that would work more like traditional instances in other game – perhaps players, from a village or town, can accept a posted bounty or task that sends them either immediately into their own instance or directs them to a nearby crossroads where they can select their instance from the signpost.

Of course, I’m just spit-balling here.  But I think this sort of thing would be a very interesting idea to pursue.  Another day, I’ll go into how I’d apply EVE’s character design/building to a fantasy game as well…

The abnormal tank & the rogue

Back in the days of EverQuest, the wife and I used to duo when we couldn’t find groups.  This isn’t strange, as I have found most couples do this.  What probably is strange is that she played a rogue and I played a monk.  With monk avoidance, the ability to bandage up to 70% (I think they could even do up to 100% later on), a weapon or item that summoned bandages, items that rooted or snared, and rogue evasion, I could tank experience giving mobs while the wife destroyed them from behind.  We really enjoyed traveling the world and finding places and monsters we could fight in this fashion.

Recently, we’ve started playing EQ2X (EverQuest 2 Extended free-to-play) and as per usual she rolled up a rogue, a brigand to be precise.  Now, I didn’t have the option to roll a monk (you have to pay for them), but I decided to roll up a templar.  As we’ve been playing, I’ve been focusing on aggro generating skills and damage and mitigation.  I’m a tanking cleric, so to speak.  I pull, I debuff and nuke and she destroys them from behind.

We’ve played this way in most of the games that we’ve played.  I play a somewhat versatile class that can semi-tank and survive while she plays a DPS heavy class that focuses on the killing.  I really enjoy it and it makes for interesting game play as we level.  Me trying to find new ways to hold aggro with a class that isn’t supposed to do that, and her trying not to steal aggro with a class practically designed to steal aggro from tanks.  I think the only game we strayed from this was LotRO in which we played a Champion/Minstrel and a Captain/Lore-master.

Do you have a favorite duo in games?

Dead State

Dead StateI’m really psyched about the upcoming release of Dead Rising 2 because Dead Rising was one of my favorite games.  However, now I hear about Dead State.  Check out this article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and then come back.  I’ll wait.

It is as if someone took a peak inside my brain and designed the game I’ve been looking for.  Obviously, I love zombies.  Not in the “I want to be a zombie” sort of way, but in an “I’m pretty sure I could survive a zombie uprising, and I also think it makes a great setting for stories” sort of way.  Frankly, I just don’t get the people in the former group at all.  But if every promise of Dead State comes true, they are talking about making a game with no defined goals, no boss to beat, no final cut scene that leads to the inevitable sequel.  You run a local shelter during a disaster and you have to go about finding supplied and food and other people.  Based on how you choose to do those things will determine if the people you run into will like you or not, creating your enemies and obstacles through your decisions.

With a release date of “Not in 2010” we’ve got a long wait ahead of us…

To Stop GameStop

StopGameStopThe Internet exploded last week (in the gaming sphere at least) beginning with an article and a comic.  It was followed by tons of articles…

So, lets talk…  First, the guy from THQ isn’t wrong.  Anytime you buy anything second hand, the original creators see nothing of that sale.  This is true of video games just as it is true of books and DVDs.  I’ve got one friend who is all up in arms about this, that we need to stop second hand video game sales, to help protect the industry, but he’s also a comic book collector.  So I asked, “When you sell a comic, do you sent the author and artist their cut?”  He doesn’t.  I asked him if this needed to change, he didn’t think so.  He couldn’t explain how the two were different.

And of course, no one really bats an eye at second hand DVD sales.  But then, a DVD retails for under $20 in most cases.  Buying it for $10 might be saving you 50% but it’s only saving you $10.  A video game, however, might be $60 new, and $30 used.  Still 50% but now it’s $30 of savings.  Really though, the guys in the industry aren’t upset at the $30 sale of a year old game.  Their ire, which they don’t specifically state, is leveled at games less than a month old that places like GameStop are selling for $55.  In this case, someone bought it for $60, then sold it to GameStop for $20 (might be more, might be less – it varies), and GameStop turns around and sells it for $55.  People are saving $5 here and bilking the game company out of any cut at all.

If THQ really wanted to stop GameStop, you know what they’d do?  Drop their price to $55.  They’d garner a few new customers, the ones willing to pay $55 but not $60.  GameStop would probably drop to $50, and THQ could decide if going to $50 is worth it.  Games that come out for consoles currently tend to retail at $60.  If the same game is available on PC, they tend to retail at $50 or even $40, so clearly there is room to move the price around, especially since the console version often has less packaging than the PC version (who knows… perhaps producing a cardboard box and a jewel case is less expensive than the DVD case console versions get).

Or, they can do what they are planning to do, which is to put a one-time code in the game that unlocks some content (levels, online play, etc).  Their solution is fine, in my opinion, so long as they never hamstring the game so that it is unplayable.  I have no problem with them putting a code on online play since often online play means that they run servers, and they can always sell online play as DLC through the systems their games appear on, so that a player who buys used will still have to pay a small fee if they want online play.

Personally, I’d love to see prices drop.  I know I’d buy more games sooner if I could afford them, but as it is I wait usually six months or more so that I can pick them up for $40 or less (often a year or more later when I can get the Platinum Hits edition for $20).  That is less likely to happen than the one-time code hostage situation that is developing.  Oh well… I’ll just have more time for watching TV and reading books.

Not So Casual

The casual gaming market is filled with games that, in my humble opinion, are more hardcore than even some of the most hardcore games.

Mostly, this comes from how you can play.  Take Farmville for example.  When I was playing, it drove me batty that I would log in and actually run out of things to do.  I tended my crops, dealt with my animals, bought some stuff, visited neighbors and then… I had to wait.  Sure, I could pick short growth crops, but even then I’d still have time where I literally couldn’t play the game.  Then, if I chose a long term crop because I expected to be away from the game for a while, but turned out to have some time a few hours later to play, I couldn’t because I tied up all my crops in growing long term stuff.  I had this same issue with Mafia Matrix when I was playing it.  I’d log in, do all the stuff I could, then be forced to wait to play more.

Coming out of a long term love affair with MMORPGs, this was a shock.  In EQ or WoW or CoH or any other triple A title, when you logged in, you had stuff to do, and you could do it for as long as you wanted.  The game never stopped and said, “You’re done. Go do something else and come back later.”  The only big MMO that skirts this line is EVE Online.  Yes, there are always things to do, but if you’ve chosen to focus on manufacturing and skill training, you might find yourself logging in once or twice a day, checking on things, clicking a few things and then logging out.  Some people do this in WoW with crafting cool downs, but that is such a tiny fraction of the game that I can’t really claim it has much of an impact.

Anyway, back to games like Mafia Matrix being more hardcore… I mean that only in the time intensive way.  You can perform a task every X minutes.  If you are away from the game, you gain no credit.  You come back, you click and have to wait X minutes.  Because of the fixed time limitations, you have no way to grind out advancement to make up for lost time.  Time away from the game is not only time lost, but time you are falling behind as everyone else clicks right past you.  For me, this type of design creates anxiety.  I log in, I play, and have fun, but when I’m away for too long I start to feel like I’m actually losing.  In many triple A MMOs, I don’t get that since I know when I do play I can double up my efforts and get more done, especially since many of them offer bonuses for being “rested” (meaning you haven’t played).

The short of it is, I don’t like this sort of design, especially for things being designated as “casual”.  I mean, Bejeweled Blitz doesn’t only let me play 5 times and then tell me to come back in an hour.  I can play as much as I want every time I’m there, and being away doesn’t penalize me.

The clothes make the hero.

Lord of the Rings OnlineArguably, the title is true for most MMOs since they are all pretty heavily gear/item based.  But what I’m talking about here is just the look of your character in game.  Over two years ago I wrote a post trying to find drawbacks in implementing a system that divorced form from function.  And just four months ago, I made another post on appearance items.  Now, thanks to Melmoth over at KiaSA, I’ve learned that Lord of the Rings Online is implementing a Wardrobe System.

What’s really interesting here is that they even went a step farther with their design than I imagined anyone would.  First, putting an item in the wardrobe will copy the name and look (no stats) and then you can sell, give away or even destroy the original item.  Let me say that again, if you like the look of an item but don’t care for it for any other reason, you can copy it to the wardrobe and then get rid of it.  Second, with some restrictions, your wardrobe is available to all the characters on your account on the same server.  Got an awesome looking hat that you want to wear on all your alts but it requires doing a high level quest and having certain reputation?  No problem!  Just put it in the wardrobe and all your alts can wear it!

This is one of those features that every MMO from here on out needs to copy.  The days of mismatched, ugly but good gear or self gimping with weak gear to look good should be over now.  As Melmoth says, no excuses any more.

The Single Shard

One of the people from over at CCP, the people who brought us EVE Online, has written up An Argument for Single-Sharded Architecture in MMOs.  I fully support this idea.

The main reason I like it is the one thing that irritates me most of most MMOs is when I meet a new person in real life, realize we both play the same game and then realize that we can’t play together unless we a) start over/start new characters or b) one of us pays to move servers and leaves all our other friends behind.  Even the people with whom I played EQ with for many years can’t seem to get themselves on the same server when a new game starts, mostly because thanks to other games they have a couple of different circles of friends, and they want to play with all of them, but when twenty of their friends from WoW want to play on LotRO server X, and twenty of their EQ friends want to play on LotRO server Y, they have to choose.  And that sucks.

On the other hand, in a game like EVE, it is impossible for me to run into another EVE player that I technologically cannot play with (unless they play only on the test server).  All I need to do is warp to them and we play.  Even in Wizard 101 and Free Realms, which technically have multiple play shards, you can switch shards whenever you want and play with anyone you want.

Another reason for my like of a single shard comes to light every time I talk about EQ for very long to other people.  During my time in EQ I played on 4 servers.  My main server was E’Ci and I spent the bulk of my time there.  But I also piddled around on one of the PvP servers (one of the team ones, not the free for all) and one of the RP servers (were I spent most of my time in the bars of Neriak spinning tales for those who would listen – which surprisingly was more than I expected going into it, but unsurprisingly didn’t last long as power gamers flooded the RP server since RPers are much easier to push around and less likely to race to max level thus leaving high end content more available).  I also did time as a guide.  Each server had a distinct personality.  As a guide I was called in to deal with situations that didn’t happen on my main server, E’Ci.  E’Ci had a strong public grouping/raiding system, where other servers were entirely guild controlled.  E’Ci had, at the upper levels, guilds that, for the most part, maintained relations and raid schedules to give everyone a shot rather than fight, where other servers had guilds training each other and swiping raid mobs from each other and camping entire zones for days/weeks on end to monopolize spawns.  When I talk about the game of EverQuest, I’ve come to realize that not everyone played the same game that I did.  But a game like EVE or Wizard 101 or Free Realms or any other unified player base game, my stories are their stories.  If I talk about getting ganked in some system in EVE, I can bet another EVE player will know what I mean.  But when I talk about hanging out in the East Commons tunnel looking for deals back in the day, some people will say, “Don’t you mean Greater Faydark?” or “You mean the North Freeport bank, right?” or “North Karana was better.” because not every server evolved exactly the same locations for community gatherings.  But in EVE, the best place for you to go to buy stuff is the best place that everyone goes to buy stuff.

I hope more games take the single-shard design route.  Multiple servers were fine back in the EQ days when there wasn’t really much competition, but these days, even if I went back to EQ I’d have to choose which friends to play with since I’ve got friends on two or three different servers.  When I look at new games, my friends and I usually try to get on the same server, but eventually some of them vanish to other servers to play with other groups.  For me, this usually ends up with me losing interest in the game and quitting because I can’t play with all of my friends.

Netbooking It

A while back I got a netbook.  An ASUS 1005HA.  Sure, it’s not the graphical monster that the Dell/Alienware MX11 or whatever it’s called is, but it suits my needs just fine.  Those needs?  Browsing the net, email, writing, and the occasional game.  Oh, and it is awesome for traveling.  Much better than lugging around a full laptop with a 15″ or 17″ screen.

Obviously, such a machine is limited in it’s gaming capabilities.  Though, mainly the issue is resolution.  It has a 1024 x 600 desktop.  I can run it at 1024 x 768, but that squishes everything.  The 600 height is native.  Puzzle Pirates runs great on it.  So does Wizard 101.  Free Realms absolutely fails.  Most flash games run, though some websites hosting them expect a larger than 600 height so their ads and layout can make playing an issue.

As you can tell by my list, I’m looking for MMOs that will run on it.  I’ve heard that World of Warcraft will run, though not optimally, plus I’m not playing that game anymore anyway.  But what other MMOs are out there that will run in a 1024 x 600 resolution and run well without needing a super graphics card?  What’s a good MMO On The Go?

Super-Easy Mode

Sometimes I feel like I need this…

The Princess isn’t in another castle

A colorful look at the reality of saving the Princess…