Tag Archive for chest

The Group is the Thing

Let’s begin by saying that if you are the type of person who prefers to play MMO games solo or “alone together” then I am not talking to you.  I get it, you like being able to play by yourself and any game that “forces” you to group is a game you won’t play, blah blah blah… understood.  Now, for the people who play games to actually play with other people…

Always on my mind is ways to encourage grouping in games.  Fact is, while I think solo play is perfectly viable and that games should make playing alone possible, I don’t think solo play should be the best method of advancement.  Over at Epic Slant, Ferrel posted about Encouraging Groups and while replying on it I hit upon an idea that I wanted to expand on…

First, you have to consider the question “Why group?”  In most games these days there are only two reasons to group up with other players: 1) Social aspects, 2) Defeat non-solo content.  Especially in games following the WoW model, solo play is so easy that even some content designed to be non-solo can be done solo if you are willing to out-level it.  But there is raid content and group instances, specifically at the level cap where you can’t just out-level it.  And with the social aspects, well, back in EQ with auto-attack and slow cast times there was time to chat, but in newer games they wanted play to be more “active” and now you spend combat hitting buttons a lot and it make chatting in text difficult.  But games are coming along with voice chat, and people have solved that problem outside games for a while now with things like Ventrilo, however sometimes (like if you game while the baby is sleeping, or just late at night) voice chat just isn’t a good option, and besides, no matter how many people try to tell you different, deep barritone voices coming from dainty female characters is just something you never fully get used to.

Next, you have to ask the opposite question, “Why avoid groups?”  In World of Warcraft soloing up to the level cap is actually far easier than grouping because a) as long as you are not an idiot, you don’t have to deal with idiots, b) no loot splitting, c) no experience splitting, and d) you can always do exactly what you want.  They’ve made solo play so easy that it puts the group experience bonuses to shame.

So, in the end we have two reasons to group, and about a half dozen reasons not to.  Of course, my first thought is usually just to up the group experience bonus and make people want to group for faster leveling, but given a long enough period of discussion I will always talk myself out of it because speeding up the game, in my opinion, isn’t a good thing.  (People should want to play your entire game at the speed that allows them to enjoy it, not skip past a giant chunk of it to get to “the real game”.)  And then I’m off trying to find other ways to make people desire to group…

What about a game where items not only have bonuses for you, but also for your group?  To rephrase the example I put on Epic Slant: Instead of a game giving out a chest piece that provides a 20% defense bonus to the player wearing it, the game would have a chest piece that provides a 4% defense bonus to the group (player included) and stacks (so if 5 people have the same chest, the entire group now has 20% defense bonus), or a chest piece that provides a 10% defense bonus for the group and stacks but only to a max of two (so if 3 people in the group have the same chest piece, 1 of them can swap his out for one that gives a different group bonus).

I can already hear the solo players griping about how since they don’t group they are handicapped with a chest that only gives a 4% or 10% bonus and not the 20% that grouping players get.  But, as long as the game is still playable solo with the base item stats, then frankly I would be perfectly comfortable telling them to go play World of Warcraft or some other game that better supports solo play as the primary style of play.

So, what do you think?  Good idea?  Bad idea?  What other ideas do you have that would encourage people to want to group?  Just keep in mind, I’m not talking about demanding an existing game make changes, but looking at how to design a new game that would encourage group play…

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.

Pyramid Magic

This week for my GameTap review, I decided to take a chance and hit the random button.  With 996 titles to choose from, of course, it landed on Sam & Max first.  After that it landed on a couple of educational type titles that I just didn’t feel like playing, until finally it landed on Pyramid Magic.  Originally for the Sega Genesis and available only in Japan, it looked to be your typical console puzzle game so I fired it up.

I’m sure there is a back story for this, but the story page was in Japanese, and while I speak a little of the language, my grasp of it is not enough to dive in and read a story.  I’m mainly limited to asking where the bathroom is and other such travel necessities.  But, its a puzzle game, so who needs a story?  Right?

Pyramid Magic: an enjoyable puzzle game from 1991The game play works like this.  Every board has 3 boxes: a wood crate, a red chest and a green chest.  So, according to the Old Man Murray “Time to Crate” scale, Pyramid Magic rates at 0 seconds.  Anyway, you have to break open the wood crate to get the red key which opens the red chest to get the green key which opens the green chest that reveals the magic piece of burlap which disables the robot.  Yes, the burlap disables the robot.  Take note of this, because after Judgment Day, you better have your stock of burlap ready to fight the Terminators.  Watch out Sky Net, I’m armed with textiles!  I suppose it is worth noting that in the age of KISS video game design, you break open the wood crate by kicking it… and you unlock the other crates also by kicking them.  I mean, if I’m just going to kick them, why do I need the key?  Because kicking it before you have the key doesn’t work, that’s why.  In addition to the crates, keys and burlap, your intrepid robot fighting archaeologist is faced with a problem: he’s got a bad back, or something… what this means is that you can’t duck.  Instead, to get through small spaces you must pick up large blocks of stone to force yourself to crouch down so you can fit into the smaller space, and then drop the block as you enter.  Of course, it is absurd to think of it that way, which is why I did it, but really is just a way to add another dimension to the puzzle solving.

Every level of the game presents you with the challenge of using the blocks of stone to climb or crouch your way through to the crates to release the burlap and defeat the evil robots.  Or at least that’s what the first 15 or so levels are like, then I got stuck and used all my lives trying to beat one stupid level (not the one pictured).  Thankfully, in the style of a bygone era of gaming, every few levels the game gives you a code so you can jump back in approximately where you left off.

Pyramid Magic is a decently enjoyable puzzle game, in fact since graphics aren’t the main draw to casual puzzle games, it actually holds up fairly well given that the game is 17 years old.  And if you like the game, Game Tap also has Pyramid Magic 2, Pyramid Magic 3, and a Pyramid Magic Special which is billed as a 4th game in the series but uses the graphics of the first so it really may have been the second game, essentially the first with new puzzles.