The story of my gloves…

One of the things I’ve come to loathe in modern MMOs is the item grind and the lack of attachment that comes with it.  In World of Warcraft, I don’t care at all about my items because the chances are pretty high that I’m going to replace them soon.  It might be a couple of days, or a few hours, or more often than I would like just a matter of minutes.  I recall one day in particular where I upgraded my character’s pants seven times in just two hours of play.  I probably could have kept any one of those since each upgrade was just a couple of points, from 120 armor to 122 or 8 strength to 9 or adding a stat bonus the previous pants didn’t have, but I felt no attachment to any of those pants.  They’d been so easy to obtain that the stats were all that mattered.

And the appearance, but when the game practically forces you to look like a rodeo clown trying to maintain a cohesive and good look is practically futile.

In my perfect MMO, character stats would be on a smaller scale.  No more crazy strength of 874.  There would be a cap, 100 is a nice number, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the old table top D&D standard of 25.  With a smaller scale, a single point increase from a magic item would have noticeable impact.  Magic items would then be more rare.  In fact, I’d probably place true magic items only at the end of long quests, coming from incredibly hard boss mobs (assuming the game even had them) or through the arduous labors of master craftsmen.  The obtaining of a magic item would be a story you could tell.  Rather than “Yeah, I got these gloves from delivering pies from Joe to Stewart.” your story would be more along the lines of “Well, about three weeks ago, I undertook a small task for the local sheriff…” and spiral off into a series of deeds and fights or harrowing escapes.  More importantly, those magic gloves would take a long time to replace, if ever.

Over the long haul, your character would become a graphic representation of the stories you could tell, instead of a collection of the best gear you’ve obtained lately.

I think this desire, this design, springs from the years I played EverQuest as a monk.  In the early days, a monk could barely wear any gear, and he was 70% effective even naked since his gear was so weak and he fought without weapons.  Thus, every item that I wore was something I obtained through playing the game.  Some of it from long quest chains, some of it, later, from slaying dragons and other rare and dangerous beasts, from invading the planar homes of the gods, crafted by dear friends using rare materials obtained through adventure.  Even as the game changed and the design encouraged monks to wear more gear, and more monk wearable gear became available, I’d been playing one way so long that I continued.  Every item I carried was a story.  The Treant Fists were a tale of a lost weekend in the Gorge of King Xorbb, the headband of the Ashen Order and the sash of the Silent Fist that eventually lead to the Robe of the Whistling Fists and the Celestial Fists, the Iksar shackles, the Shiverback Hide armor, and so much more.

I’d love to see a game, or perhaps I’ll have to make one, where I actually care about my gear beyond the numbers it increases.

Fantasy Fantasy MMO Again

Last week, I posted about how I’d design/build a world for a fantasy MMO.  At the end I said I’d post about how I’d take EVE’s character design and use it in a fantasy setting.

I’ve posted a few times about not limiting your players in their choices, and in fact a little over a year ago I actually talked about EVE’s design in reference to Fallen Earth’s decision at the time not to have respecs.  What I like about EVE’s design is that you need skills to use equipment and your skill only matters while you are using your equipment.  Applied to a fantasy setting it would essentially be: you are what you wear.

A warrior isn’t a class.  A warrior is the ability to wear heavy armor, take damage, use a weapon and perhaps a shield, and taunting abilities.  A wizard isn’t a class.  A wizard is the ability to use reagents and focus through a staff or wand and cast spells.  And so on…

A fantasy game under the EVE model would allow every character to have every skill if they take the time to train it, but what skills matter and what you are able to do depends entirely on what you are wearing/using.  If you leave town wearing plate armor, a heavy club and shield and your taunts, you are a warrior.  If you leave town in a robe with a staff, a wand and a bag of potions and reagents, you are a wizard.

The main thing that attracts me to this model is that it encourages players to play less characters.  If you get tired of being a warrior, you just switch gear and start playing as a wizard.  If next week your guild still needs a warrior, you can just put back on your warrior gear from last week and immediately be the warrior you were.  While I understand that many people like making alternate characters, and this wouldn’t prevent them from doing so, I personally have never enjoyed the work that goes into making sure my friends know where to find me.  I’d much rather be messing around with lesser used skills on my main character and have my friends be able to find me easily, than to be logged in as another character and have them have to track me down.

Obviously, a design like this would need to take care in how it allows people to wear gear and how much they can carry with them.  Letting someone carry around a few alternate skill items to swap in special situations is great, but letting someone carry around a full set of gear that they are able to use a macro to swap allowing them to cast fireballs between enemy attacks while tanking would be a disaster, unless you want the game full of macroing tank-mages.

Then again, I prefer a crafting driven economy over a mob-kill-loot based one.  Adventurers should find materials to sell/trade to crafters to buy/trade for finished gear.  But that is for another post…

Dragon*Con 2008: Day Two

A better day of panels… I got to see SOE demonstrate FreeRealms, which, in the simplest terms, is Puzzle Pirates on steroids and crossing genres.  It definitely is something I am going to look into, and at the price (free), why not?

Force of Arms, a mechanized armor fighting MMO being built on the Multiverse system, has a lot of potential.  However, right now, potential seems to be what it has the most of, and everything about the actual game play seems to not be nailed down just yet.

On the other hand, Champions Online, looks like it is going to be City of Heroes squared… at least.  The two gents who showed off the game left me feeling really good about this one.

I took some time to go through the dealers’ and exhibitors’ halls… and it was pretty much the same.  The same dealers with the same stuff for sale, the same exhibitors with the same products.  Oh, there were some new items here and there, but nothing really to blow one’s shirt up.

And then the nightlife began.

The planned events by the Con were fairly normal… and like normal they were hum-drum.  The Colonial Fleet party for Battlestar Galactica was alright, with it’s 80’s soundtrack… it got better when some of the cast showed up.  The Shindig for Firefly was boring.  But later in the evening, the BSG fans had a party of their own on the 10th floor of the Marriott, and those cats know how to throw down.

Yeah, the day is for panels, but the night belongs to the parties… its what the Con is all about.  It would be a shame if they ever tried to move to a convention center and lost the hotel party nightlife.


Inspired by Friday’s post and the comments that followed… How would you handle multiple characters under a player-NPC style system?

One thought would be henchmen. You’ve started a fighter character, gotten him a sword and some armor, but now you decide you want to play a mage… So, you roll up your mage, but you don’t want to go it alone, so you pull up your characters and pick your fighter to be a henchmen. Your fighter is now an NPC pet that you can give orders to.

Immediately, its appearant that in a game with levels this probably would be game breaking and unbalancing. Even a skill based game could make this a challenge to implement. But in a game without levels and skills, one that is based on player skill and goal achievement through narrative (quests), this could work very well. A system like this would allow a player to be his own party and play it like the old days of the AD&D games made by SSI, or allow a few friends to fill a gap in their group when they can’t find a player to fill it.

These pets wouldn’t be super smart, they’d be much like current game pets, simple commands and defending the owner, etc, because you wouldn’t want pets to be the defacto method for playing your MMO. Obviously much research and legwork would be needed to make this function, and it would have to be a “right fit” for the game being designed. But for now I just like thinking stuff up until I hit that lottery jackpot…

A Real Class Act

Okay… with a few recent posts around the internet on Classes vs Skills for characters in MMOs, I decided to go dig up the post I made on one of the previous incarnations of my site about how I would design classes in my game, if I ever got to make one. I’m a little pressed for time this morning, so what you are getting is actually two posts I made mushed into a single post, so make sure you read all of it before you comment. Read more

Stay Classy

Over at the Zen of Design, a post has been made and hopefully a violent and bloody discussion will ensue. The post is about Classes in MMOs.

Somewhere around my room I’ve got a document I started about class design. See, I really hate the way many games implement classes. You make one choice, at creation, and you are stuck. A warrior is a warrior, a cleric is a cleric. You are what you are and so is everyone else. Basically, EverQuest. World of Warcraft managed to do one better and essentially each class is actually three classes since you can choose to focus your talent points in one of three trees. I like this flexibility, so much so that I play a shadow priest in WoW… that’s a priest who is okay at healing, but better at dealing damage. I love it.

Back to my document. The idea I had for class design involved giving the players more on an illusion of control. What you would do is group skills together into sets, or schools as I called them. All melee weapons would be in a melee combat school, wearing armor and armor types falls into the defence school, healing arts both magic and non-magic fall into a healing school, and so on. In the end I had 6 or 7 schools that covered most things. Then each player would choose the ranks of his schools. They could put defence first, and melee combat second… making them a warrior… putting healing third might make them a minor paladin type, if they went defence then healing and melee combat third that would be a major paladin, healing first then defence then melee makes them a cleric, healing/melee/defence makes them a healing monk, melee/healing/defence makes them a fighting monk… and so on, involving all the schools. At first glance this looks like a ridiculous amount of freedom for the players, but in reality it is a very finite number of “classes” and all balance can be approached from that angle. No need to worry about someone maxing healing and melee and defence and damage spell casting because its not possible, if fact the ranking can inherantly reduce the effectiveness of the skills in that school, and since everyone will have to place one school at the lowest rank it means that everybody will suck at something.

Essentially, all I’m really saying is… totally unrestricted skill systems are bad, and totally rigid class systems are bad. A good system is just floating somewhere in the middle, a nice balance between player freedom and developer control.

Pure Melees: Balance

When people think about games like EverQuest, if you ask them about class balance will probably tell you that either the casters, or the hybrids will be the hardest to balance. But in truth, the hybrids are easiest, followed by casters, and leaving the melees at the hardest to balance.

It almost seems illogical that the simplest classes would be so hard to balance, however it is exactly that simplicity that makes it so hard.

With casters, if you have an imbalance, you have give them new spell lines, remove spell lines, play with damage caps and resist rates, mana costs, etc… spells open themselves to alot of “wiggle room” in their design, both in direct use by the caster and in direct effect on the target.

Hybrids have the spell flexibility of casters, even if it is to a muted level, as well as having an avenue for melee damage output, damage avoidance, mitigation, etc… all the melee skills.

A pure melee has only those melee skills. The only way to balance a melees is by giving him new armor and weapons, or changing the effect of the weapons on a target. The problem with changing the effect on a target is that those changes will inherantly filter down to the hybrids. The hybrids might be well balanced, but when you make melee skill changes you may unbalance them inadvertantly. The problem with armor and weapons is that its boring.. and frankly, just how big a sword do you give them? And if you give them class restricted weapons, especially no-drop weapons, as loot, you basically place a hole in the loot table that even the most diverse guild will eventually arrive at. Once all the rogues have the new weapon, it becomes rot loot.

Before going on with my ideas on balance, let me just lay down one thing you must understand before going on… Active vs Passive. In EverQuest, pure melees are largely active for the first few seconds of combat. The mob comes in, you move around, get set, assist. Once combat is fully engaged, the pure melee classes become passive. Warriors get taunt and kick, rogues get backstab, and monks get flying kick or other alternate attacks, and they all get disciplines, but by and large you turn on auto-attack and then hit one key until the mob is dead. Hybrids and Casters on the other hand are different. Hybrids remain active all the time, and casters become active after the mob is set (or before in the case of clerics healing melees and enchanters controlling mobs on multiple target pulls). The biggest play advantage they have is that using their choice of spells and skills they can help affect and control the fight in a way that a pure melee cannot.

That said, most of my ideas are not just for pure balance, but also to make the pure melee classes more active in their combat rolls.

The first item I would suggest toward melee balance would be to unlink the disciplines they already have. While I see much merit in the idea that I have to wait an hour to repeat a discipline that is of great use, I do not see why that should prevent be from using a little use, or moderate use discipline. Allowing pure melees unlinked disciplines would go toward them having a more active role in combat.

The next thing I would suggest is to give pure melees “specializations” similar to what casters get for their schools of magic. Allow a pure melee at level 20 or 30 put a point into the specialization for all his available weapon skills, with only one able to go above a skill of 50. As skill in the specialization grows, have it factor into a pure melee’s ATK or “to hit” mathematics so that they become more effective with that weapon type over the others. Not so dramatically such that using a non specialized weapon will cut your damage output in half, but enough so that the player would come to prefer a certain type over others. Of course, like the casters, offering a way to reset and respecialize later would be best to help reduce the impact of mistakes or changes in preference.

Another thing I propose is to give melees more avenues for balance in the form of Fighting Styles.

At just a quick glance at speedy implementation, you can give the pure melees mana to manage the use of these styles, making it act the way that Bard mana does now. These styles would alter the melee attack slightly, offering a way for a pure melee to interact and affect the course of battle in more ways than turning on auto-attack and hitting a special attack key.

A few simple examples of what might be done:

  • Offensive Stance: This would increase the melee damage, which decreasing defensive skills. More damage for less armor class.
  • Defensive Stance: The brother to the offensive, increaing defence skills while lowering damage output. More armor class for less damage.
  • Forceful Blows: Cut the damage of blows in half, but add in a greater chance to interrupt spells.
  • Slashing Blows: Increase damage output for mana cost per tick, increased damage only applies to mobs tagged “fleshy”. The idea being that you are slashing and tearing the skin for more damage.
  • Crushing Blows: Increase damage output for mana cost per tick, increased damage only applies to mobs tagged “non-fleshy”. The idea being that you are trying harder to break the bones of undead or the shell of a bug, etc, monsters with an outter layer that is not flesh.
  • Precision Strikes: Quadruple the damage per hit, while tripling the delay between hits for a mana per tick cost.
  • Critical Study: Every critical hit becomes a crippling blow, every crippling blow becomes a doubled crippling blow for a mana per tick cost.

These are, of course, just simple examples that would need to be greatly tested and tweaked before implementation, but I think something of this sort would help give pure melees more to do, and more avenues for balance without greatly overhauling the classes.

In any event, I don’t think that balance of the melees can be achieved with directed changes to the existing structure. Simply adding more damage per second, or more “tankability” won’t cut it. I strongly believe the only way to properly balance the melees is to broaden these simple classes and make more ways to improve them slightly as opposed to having to improve their one or two ways greatly just to see a difference.

Shadows of Luclin or Shit outta Luck?

Verant is at it again.

And I mean that in both the good and bad sense of the phrase.

The Good: They released Shadows of Luclin, an expansion for EverQuest – the game that keeps on kicking. New lands, a new race, a new class, new items featuring never before thought of properties, a new expanded skill system, and more. The world opens up again and for a while we can all explore something new and different. You won’t hear much bitching about this part of the game because people don’t complain when they are happy.


The Bad: As usual, they introduced a large amount of bugs with the game release. Bards are, for lack of a better term, useless. They can’t sing anything that isn’t self only. Druids got a new line of group skin buffs to make them for desireable in groups, but group buffs, like group songs, don’t work (this may be fixed now, they patched twice already and the game has only been live 2 days). And while many of the armor textures look good, the character models… let’s just say they leave something to be desired.

Change is good, and change is bad.

The people wanted more in game content, and Verant provided. The new world and items, spells, class, race, all of it, a good idea and exactly what the customer wanted.

The new skill system is mostly good, except for the fact they made it level based again. I don’t think anyone would have complained if you had to be level 51 to get the new skills, but Verant decided that you get some skills made available to you at 51, some at 55, and some at 59. Basically, they made it so that no matter how hard you worked for these extra skill points (don’t through experience points just like levelling) you can’t get all the skills unless you are level 59. Here, in this one factor of the system, they missed the mark of what the average player wants. Most people would like to someday be level 60 and on top of the world, however, most realize that its a dream. Some people are in small guilds that don’t do gigantic raids, or don’t play often. These people might make level 55 and realize that 55 is all the level they need to do what they want in game. But now, in order to get the cool skills that would make them better, they have to level to 59. Lots of these skills have levels within them, 3 or 5. If Verant was determined to keep a level based system, they should have done 2 things: 1) make the skill tree more of a tree with prerequisites and order, and 2) take a skill with 3 “levels” and make the first attainable at 51, the second at 55 and the third at 59 so that you can have the skill at 51, but you can’t master it until 59.

Lastly, people like eye candy. And for the most part, the armor textures of Luclin are good. Plate armor LOOKS like plate armor instead of a solid steel t-shirt. But the character models themselves, especially the faces, have left most people dumbstruck. Some of the races look good, and for the most part all the females are decent although a bit heavy in the boobage department, but they destroyed faces. Every race/sex gets 8 faces, this has always been true. But where before Luclin the 8 faces were unique, the 8 new faces are very very very similar. If two humans pick the same hair and beard style and color, unless one of them picks the face with the eyepatch, get more than 10 feet away and you can’t tell them apart anymore. If you were one of the people who picked the “asian” human face, you are completely out of luck, it no longer exists. Verant made a leap here that they should not have. They redesigned the look of the player. Not just his armor, but his face. Rather than take the existing faces and modify them to fit the new models, they chose to make new faces altogether.

The end result of all this is.. once they get the bugs fixed, they have released an expansion that is 95% good. But that 5% bad is the worst possible 5% because its something that makes many players unhappy and they have to stare at that 5% every time they get into the game.