Tag Archive for character

Real ID Revisited

So, last year, you know, 2010, Blizzard announced their new Real ID plan. To which I had this to say:

None of the “good” parts of Real ID, the cross server chat, cross game chat, seeing people’s alts, and so on, required the use of real names

Blizzard did back off a little bit. And now they unveil the new BattleTag!

Short version: It’s Real ID without using your real identity.

Now if they can just allow for a character exemption or “invisible” mode so I can choose to play but not be seen by my BattleTag buddies, they’ll have covered just about everything I care about.

For Your Consideration

I have held, and will always hold, that it is the little things that matter most.  You can have two items, two stories, that are in large strokes exactly the same, but it is the little details that end up endearing one to a generation while the other winds up mostly forgotten, completely independent of its success.  The endearing tale could be one that hardly makes anyone any money but it a cult favorite for decades, and the “forgotten” one could make millions in the short-term and in a few years people barely remember that it existed.

Almost every MMO these days uses some form of the color con system.  Red often means that it is going to be hard or impossible to beat, some form of grey or green often indicates an easy kill, with shades of blue, yellow and more in between to let you know your chances if you decide to fight it.  And yet, beyond the color or number or whatever other indicator they use, there is nothing more. We are, at this point, expected to know what that means.

A giant diseased rat scowls at you, ready to attack. What would you like your tombstone to say?

Sometimes, however, I think we’ve lost something by moving entirely to numbers and UI indicators.  EverQuest added flavor to the consideration system by spelling it our for you, giving you your faction relationship and a difficulty assessment all in one quick message.  But the most important part of it was that while some information might be readily available in your targeting window, you had to actually /con the target to get the message.  It lent just a little push toward the RP in MMORPG, that your character, that you, had to stop and look the target over, reading his demeanor and body language, that your character was a hero who kept abreast of clan markings and signs of madness, that the hero you controlled, that you embodied, would be able to look at a monster and say, “Not only does that thing probably hate my guts, I’m pretty sure he’ll beat the crap out of me too.”

To me, it’s the words that made that happen, and it is the lack of words, the purely UI based blinkies and numbers that make my brain flip immediately to math and calculations and I wind up saying, “The level disparity will reduce my effectiveness to the point that I don’t believe my DPS is enough to bring his hit points to zero before he does to mine.”

It’s just one more things that brings me again to my conclusion that I seem to be out of sorts with so many MMOs because they’ve reduced themselves to being just games instead of being more than games.

Singularity

Over two years ago on this blog I decided I was going to investigate the idea of building a game where the player was only allowed to create one character.  From thinking about it on my own and from discussions on message boards, I came to realize that most MMOs simply couldn’t do it.  Mainly because their design has actually come to not only expect but actually count on players playing more than one character.  With shared bank space to easily swap items and continuing to limit characters in the number of trade skills and other aspect, as well as encouraging people to play alts and race through the old game again and again removing as many barriers to speedy leveling as possible, you simply couldn’t release a clone of any current DIKU-style MMO that only allowed one character.  You’d need to rebuild the game from the ground up.  And most MMO players simply weren’t interested.

Enter the Facebook game.

By default, the design of almost every Facebook game is that you only have one character.  As well, there is only one world and everyone shares it.  It is this element, and this element alone that has me taking a second look at the Facebook games that I originally dismissed.

The game play of most Facebook games still irritates me.  Some of them are what I refer to as “intensely casual”.  They are casual in that they require very little effort, but they are intense because their design is that there are actions to take and buttons to click all the time.  These games often provide so much micromanagement that a player can get lost in there quite easily.

I’d love to see some games that can dial back that intensity, like D&D Tiny Adventures (though they go a little too far and it barely feels like I’m playing a game at all), and I’ll keep looking for them.  Sadly, though, Facebook games are almost less diverse than traditional MMOs, so it won’t take long at all to go through them.

But maybe this is what it takes.  I said that to do one character in one world that MMOs would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, and maybe Facebook games are where that rebuilding can happen.

What’s in a Name?

One of the things that has always bothered me with my writing is coming up with names.  Every character needs one and mine always end up in one of two categories.  Either their name is unique and awesome, or it is horrible plain and forgettable.  I have spent many any hour agonizing over names and often end up reusing the same ones over and over.

However, thanks to an idea from Corvus Elrod, I started keeping a list of names from spam emails and comments on this blog.  I’ve already got well over two hundred names and I’ve only been doing it for about a week.  The names range from the banal to the exotic and every level in between.  The idea was inspired, so to Corvus, sir, I tip my hat.  I may never have to worry about character naming again.

Combat Revised

Tobold has an interesting post up today about making combat in MMOs better.  I’d like to take his combat cards design a step further, and use it to support a classless design as well.

Think about it, if all your attacks, defences and utility moves in combat were based on a deck of skill/action cards, you can go a step further and make each card have requirements.  For example, a defensive card called “Shield Block” that would buff you an absorb the damage of the next incoming attack (or X amount of damage) would require you to have a shield equipped to use.  A “Fireball” card could require a wand be in your primary hand, while a “Backstab” requires a dagger.  I’m sure we could spitball and come up with many things like this.  As an added bonus, the items could have a modifier.  Using a flat shield with “Shield Block” has no bonus, but if you had a Spiked Shield your “Shield Block” would inflict X damage if the attack absorbed was a melee attack.  Again, let your mind run wild on all the things you could do.

The result would be that your “class” would be defined by your equipment and the deck that you carry.  New cards and new items could be found through questing and adventuring, and made through crafting.  Crafting itself could be made up as card game combat using a separate deck and crafter’s tools.

To throw another element into the mix, you could allow for character level to affect the bonus on cards, or even add a “card level” where the cards in your deck gain experience through use, the more you use a card the higher level it gets the better the bonus.  Card level would, in effect, mirror a skill based system, while your character level would carry a bonus on all cards.  So if you had been heavily magic focused and decided to become a plate tank by switching your gear and cards, the 50 levels you earned as a mage would transfer as a level 50 warrior, you’d only be lacking card levels.

Another thing this design would allow for is a structure where any opponent can be non-trivial.  If defence and mitigation are card effects, an unlucky draw could leave you open to attacks by even the “lowest level” foes.  The reverse is also true, that low level characters can fight even high level foes with a good deck and a lucky draw.

This design would even allow for RMT in the form of selling booster packs of random cards (or buying specific cards for larger amounts), but restricts the power of “bought goods” through the equipment requirements and card level bonuses.  (Traded cards would not retain their level.)

Lastly, similar to the way Guild Wars handles things, make the places you can swap equipment and decks be limited to the adventuring hubs, so that a player picks a role and outfits themselves prior to heading out.  (This works fantastically with my thoughts on towncentric design with judicious use of instancing.)

The more I think about it, the more I like this.

Hellboy: Emerald Hell

It is not often that you can read the same character portrayed in more than one way.  If you read all the Dirk Pitt books by Clive Cussler, they all pretty much read the same.  Not to say they aren’t good reads, but a Dirk Pitt book is a Dirk Pitt book.  In the realms of Science Fiction and Fantasy, however, sometimes you can find a character who is written by several authors, and those authors can be very distinct in their styles.  Conan, for example, has been written by dozens of authors, and if you read enough of them, while Conan himself remains relatively the same throughout, his surroundings and the tales in which he is enmeshed change.

Hellboy falls in here also.  Many of the Hellboy books I’ve read and reviewed here are akin to superhero novels.  Hellboy and his band of misfits saving the world from one monstrosity or another.  Emerald Hell on the other hand is a much more sedate book by comparison.  More brooding.  More searching.

Within the pages we find Hellboy on his own, and after hearing some tales about the six silent daughters of Bliss Nail and the little Georgia swamp town of Enigma, he decides to check them out and see if something sinister is afoot.  Of course there is, but its not the potential world ending calamities of the other books.  Instead its about a pregnant girl who needs protecting from a misguided undead minister who murdered the girl’s mother.  More so than the other books, this one is all about mood and sorrow.

I don’t think I’d put this book at the top of my Hellboy pile, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Ptolemy’s Gate

Every once in a while, something you intend to do gets away from you.  Back in 2006, I picked up and read The Amulet of Samarkand and I really enjoyed it.  Like a grim and gritty version of other books about magic with a kid for a main character, it just felt more… real… than things like the Harry Potter books.  Later that year I did read the second book in the series, The Golem’s Eye, and I enjoyed it as well.  I even picked up the third book, but somehow, for some reason, I never got around to reading it.

Well, I finally did.  Ptolemy’s Gate is the final third of the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.  In this tale we find ourselves back with Nathaniel, a few years older and stronger, but perhaps not wiser.  He’s kept poor Bartimaeus enslaved and trapped on Earth so that his essence has become quite weak.  Meanwhile, Kitty has gone into hiding and taken up learning magic because she desperately wants to talk to Bartimaeus and the only way she can think to do so is to learn to summon him herself.  War rages in the Americas and the commoners of England are beginning to get out of control.  The magicians are losing their grip…

And I won’t go any further, because it would spoil everything.  This book makes for a perfect end to the trilogy, wrapping everything up quite satisfactorily… for me as the reader, some of the characters don’t make out so well in the end.  The three books together make up 1500 pages of excellent storytelling.  I look forward to new works from Mr. Stroud in the future.

Form versus Function

One thing that has always bugged me about MMORPGs is that in order to play the game, mechanically, to its peak, I must relinquish control of certain aspects of my character.

As far as spells, skills, talents, etc are concerned, that I don’t mind because those are the mechanics of the game. If getting skill X makes me better at dealing damage than skill Y and I have chosen my role to be damage dealer, there is no choice. I pick X. Picking Y would be self defeating. Sure, the idea of Y might be cooler than X, but mechanically, to maximize the efficiency of the game, I have to pick X.

To a degree, the same goes for items… except often times the best items don’t look the best. Ask any WoW player if he enjoys the water cooler shoulder pads of some of the highest level loot and you’ll get a mixed response… on the look. When it comes to the math, you can’t argue, much like skills, item X is better than item Y for reason Z. Period. The math doesn’t lie. The problem comes in that the axe you got a couple of weeks ago has the really cool look, and it is dripping fire, and the new one that just dropped, which is mathematically better than the axe that drips fire, just looks like a typical hand axe, one that doesn’t drip fire. Or perhaps you have this wicked cloak with a pattern of a bat on it, and you like bats, but now you are presented with a cloak that is much better statistically but is has a pink butterfly on it… ick.

For that reason, I fully support any design that allows for the separation of form and function. Recently I’ve been fooling around with EverQuest II and I just hit level 20 which opened up a second “paper doll” (i.e. – slots for items) that was just for the visible look. That way, the robe I had that I really liked the look of for my monk I can keep wearing for the appearance, but I can slip on the chest straps in my normal equipment spot for the stats. This is a concept that should be implemented into every single game that uses gear as progression… stat!

Thinking on this concept though, and knowing that I love it, I wanted to be sure I had considered all the possible “down sides” to it, and my thoughts on how to deal with them. So, let’s go…

1. PvP.

Problem: In Player versus Player combat, the fact that certain gear has a specific visual look can be an asset to sizing up your opponents. If he’s got on the water cooler shoulder pads and the unique dark blue chest plate from that super elite raid dungeon, chances are the guy is going to be decked out in awesome raid gear, so you’ll need to approach him differently, more carefully, than you would some poor schmoe in head to toe rags from random outdoor adventuring.

Solution: Gear from raid zones (or as PvP rewards) generally has designated “tiers”. In fact, World of Warcraft openly supports this idea of tiered suits, especially in rewarding players with bonus stats and effects for wearing pieces from the same tier. I’d suggest supporting this idea from day one, even at the lowest level. Design all gear to be handled in tiers, and then provide next to a character’s name (both floating and on player listing pages) they tier average of all their gear. If a player has 14 slots for gear and currently the game has 200 tiers of gear, a player with a tier average of 200 would be fully decked in the best gear possible. Of course, players could try to “cheat” by equipping lower tier gear, for example dropping a tier 1 piece of just in, say, the ring slot would drop a 200 tier player down to 186 (200 * 13 + 1 = 2601 / 14 = 185.78…, round up), but in doing so, he’d be robbing himself of an entire slot worth of stats. While this might be an odd concept at first, I think it would fairly rapidly become second nature to players. Games could even help out by providing the number for the current max tier rank, so you’d see a player as 191/200 or 185/200 as a quick judge of their gear.

2. Nudity.

Problem: Sometimes the problem isn’t just the look of a piece of equipment, but that you don’t want to see anything in a particular slot at all, and if you allow people to turn off the visible graphic for slots, you are going to end up with “naked” characters running around.

Solution: While I would support some form of “disabling” visibility on slots for most locations (gloves, boots, helmet, etc), I cannot think of any reason I would support disabling the visibility of the chest and pants slots on a character, and I would be perfectly happy leaving those two slots as forcing a graphic, either from the equipped stat item or from the visibility override item. If a player really wants to be “naked” back to the fully unequipped graphics of a new character, they’ll have to have nothing equipped, at least in those two slots. Besides, as far as I am aware, Age of Conan is the only game I’ve heard of that is going to have any real nudity anyway, most games already don’t allow true nudity.

And that’s it… I tried really hard to think of a 3rd problem with separating the form and the function of items, and I even feel number 2 there is a stretch. If anyone else thinks of a reason not to divide form from function, or any other problems, please, let me know. I’d love to discuss it.

To me though, it seems almost like a no brainer, especially to extend the accessibility of any game to role players and women. And I’m not being sexist there… its from experience, almost every woman I know who has played an MMO, one of the first things they want to know is how to turn the camera and see how they look. Women, in general, care more about how they look than men do, even in a game.

You`ve been Data Mined!

Over at Broken Toys, Scott has brought up an issue that was the butt of one of Blizzard’s April Fool’s Day gags. How much of a game’s data is public fodder?

Personally, there are only two valid reasons I can see for having the Armory work as it currently does.

  1. Virtual dick measuring. Some people love to compare gear, to lord over others the awesome gear they have. It is naturally inherant in any item-centric game.
  2. Harassment. I, personally, have already had one instance of someone telling me I should be able to solo certain content, then retracting that statement after they pulled up my Armory profile and began telling me how crappy my gear was. And the number of gold and item auction site tells and mails I have gotten has increased.

Honestly, I could do without the dick measuring. There already exists enough of it within the pre-Armory game, but localized to servers. Now you can pull up the inventory (including bags, bank and talent builds) of any character anywhere. Do we really need that?

As for the harassment, sure my story is anecdotal, but that doesn’t make it less true. And if its not being used for this widespread yet, it will.

There is really only one “good” use for this tool, and that is statistic gathering. No game has ever made available (that I know of) this level of character information to the public. But this one good function would not be hurt by allowing players to “opt-anonymous” of the Armory. Show my gear and talents and bank and everything, just keep my name and my guild out of it. That would solve both of the aforementioned problems and have no impact on statistics gathering.

I’d really like to see Blizzard offer this option.

Sneaking Seventy: The Beginning

I am sure it has been done before, but I don’t care. I’ve rolled up a new character in the World of Warcraft, he is a rogue, and he shall not fight, and he shall only do quests that can be completed without killing. My goal is to explore, everywhere and everything, hence the title: Sneaking Seventy.

So far, I’ve explored Stormwind, Elwynn Forest and some of Westfall… and then I went to Dun Morogh. The ability of monsters to see me and kill me is astounding… I definately need some money and some gear. I’ll post screenshots later.