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…

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?

Real Issues with Real ID 2

Continuing from here and in light of Blizzard’s decision to tie real names to forums posts…

It is frightfully easy to find information on people.  You can only control so much of the data.  Sure, you limit your Facebook and what you put out there, but the government, the phone company and so many other places have public records that you are not invisible (unless your name is so horrendously common that you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone with the same name).  Go to Spokeo or Zabasearch, put in your name and see how long it takes to find you.

But… we are talking about an MMO.  A fantasy world where you get to be someone else.  Of course, we’re also talking about World of Warcraft, which has gone to great lengths to tell us their game is about levels and loot, and the world it happens in is just window dressing.  Want proof?  Just look at the sheer number of real world jokes crammed into the game.  WoW is a playground, not a virtual world.  And still, people go there and play characters that aren’t them.  Women play men, men play women, the meek play strong, the social get alone time, shut ins make friends, all possible without the “limitations” of their real lives.

Sure, we all want to reduce the number of asshats that make the forums a cesspool, but much like the other features of Real ID, this could be achieved without your real name.  The real problem with the WoW forums is that you post as one of your characters, which you select, so you get people who create a level 1 character on a server they don’t really play on as their posting persona, and they troll.  It’s the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.  Instead of real names, make them pick a forum name, which they can’t change, and when they post provide a link to a list of all their characters.  Or make the forums smart and under the forum name put the name of their highest level & longest played character.  If you have a 3 year old level 10 and a 3 month old level 80, the level 80 is posted, if you have two level 80s, the oldest one is used.  Posting in a class forum?  The name of your highest level of that class is posted, or if you don’t have one it will say “I don’t have any characters of this class”.  Or, you know, hire more moderators.

There are many many solutions that would work equally as well for removing trolls.  But… there is a greater thing at work here.  See, Blizzard has all your information anyway (most likely).  Your name, your address and billing info, email, and so on.  They can’t do anything with it though because it is privileged information, it’s private.  However, once Real ID makes certain items public, it becomes sellable data.  Facebook, much to the ire of it’s CEO, lets you keep a number of items private.  However, one thing they absolutely do not allow you to hide are your “likes”.  The reason is that what you like is the most marketable item about you.  At the heart of this whole Real ID situation is a partnership between Blizzard and Facebook.  In the end, Real ID isn’t about cleaning up the forums or even making it easier to communicate with your friends and find them in game.  Real ID is about money.

I quit playing World of Warcraft a while ago because I was bored with it and wasn’t finding what I wanted (strong community) within the game anymore.  I was actually looking forward to Starcraft II.  I participate fairly heavily in a number of smaller, tight knit communities.  I don’t need another bland “everyone is connected to everyone” social network, so I’m going to opt out in the only way Blizzard allows – not to play at all.

MechWarrior: An Exercise in Game Design

The purpose of this post is simple: If I were to design an MMO for a MechWarrior game, how would I approach it?  Please feel free to point out my flaws, add your own thoughts, or propose your own designs.

If I had to tackle this as a game designer, I don’t think I would bother trying to do any kind of class or archtype system beyond possibly giving some initial choice of a small (2-5%) bonus in certain skills.  But then, what would I do?

First off, I would completely and absolutely separate character level from character power.  As a player does things in the game, be it quests, or crafting, or combat (both PvE and PvP), they would earn experience which would go toward a “rank”.  I’d probably steal ranks from the military, and for each rank I’d have a few mini-levels inside, like to move from Private to Private First Class you might only fill the exp bar once, but going from something like Sergeant Major to Second Lieutenant you might have to fill it 5 times signifying the harder jump from Noncommissioned Officer to Commissioned Officer.  This level would largely be a measure of how much ass you have kicked, but without a real relation to the power of the character.  Meeting a Brigadier General on the field as a Colonel doesn’t mean he’s going to win, it just means he’s been doing this longer or more than you.

Second, I would tie the player’s power into sort of an “item level” system.  As a MechWarrior, you pilot a Mech (giant powered robot armor), and if you like your wrist mounted pulse lasers, the more you use them, the more experience you earn with them, and you’ll level up your wrist mounted pulse laser skill which directly would affect your accuracy with the lasers, but indirectly would allow you to use more complicated and intricate wrist mounted pulse lasers.  On the other hand, if you prefered wrist mounted welders and repair kits, you’d get similar skill levels, but with wrist mounted welders and repair kits instead of lasers.  The key here being, if you can level up both if you want to spend the time, but you can only have one equiped when you leave the garage.

In a way, this would mirror Eve Online’s system of skills and things you can attach to your ship and which ships you can drive, but without the forced delay of a strictly time based advancement system.  Think of Eve but also being able to actively grind out the skill instead of logging out one day and coming back a week later when Frigate level 5 is done training.

Anyway, as will the item skills, there would also be rig skill.  Items attach to slots on your rig, rigs come in various shapes and sizes.  As the game expands, more and different rigs could be added, new items and item groups, specialized items.

Because experience given is based on usage (you plus item used plus target of item use times the success of the usage in some formula), there would be no need formalize grouping or raid structures for the dividing of experience points, so groups would end up being just communications channels.  Then you could even add in skills and items to support “hacking” so that you can “tap in” to an enemy’s chat, and of course to monitor for taps and counter them.

I think the entirety of the game would be PvP.  The beginning focus would be on One on One gladiator style combat, expanding into Two on Two, Five on Five, 3 or more Teams, Free for All or whatever.  Then, just like they have for first person shooter and racing games (or for that matter, World of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds), you can add “mission” types.  Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Marked Man/Escort, anything you can think of.  In fact, the game might go so far as to run contests for player designed submissions for maps and rulesets.

If a “larger” game is needed for people to play, you can make a robust guild system having people swear allegience to an army and fight for them in massive battles.  The guilds/armies can build their own bases, run scrimmages for themselves or against other teams.  Blending that in with the “missions” from above, you can actually throw in leader boards and seasons to turn them from random battles into an organized sport.

Outside of the Mechs, players would have an avatar, a character, to run around “the city” in, to meet up with other people and talk.  Or not… you could also go the route of EVE Online and just have an avatar image, a picture of you, with no animation (although, even EVE is adding in stuff for people to walk around space stations).  The world outside of the combat zones becomes just a simple chatroom.  If you really wanted to get crazy, you could even drop the text and have it all be voice chat.  If you did that, and made the game playable with a controller, you might even get an MMO you could run on a console, cross platform even.

So there, in a completely un-fleshed out outline is what I would do for an MMO based around a MechWarrior style mythos.  Feel free to comment…

Stuck on a Path

Last post on the challenges of the single character problem was about how to let players learn characters without forcing them to invest hours and hours just to discover they don’t like it. But what about people who did test, liked what they saw, but then later something changed (their tastes, their available time, whatever) and now the character they have is one they don’t, won’t or can’t play?

In current MMOs, once you make the character that character is stuck. A warrior is a warrior. In a game like World of Warcraft you can fine tune the warrior with talents and even built very distinct warriors. They even allow you the ability to re-pick your talents any time (for a price), but you’ll still be a warrior. Your warrior cannot become a warlock or a hunter. Alternate characters are the only option. City of Heroes works the same way: a blaster is a blaster. In fact, a fire/devices blaster is a fire/devices blaster. You can’t change power sets, you have to start over.

Now, realistically, this makes sense. I mean, if you spend your whole life learning one set of skills, you can’t just up and decide that you would have rather spent that time doing something else and magically make that happen. But then, these games are not reality. More games should allow you to make changes, even drastic changes, to your character without losing your identity. If I spend two years in a game playing Joeblow the warrior, making friends, joining a guild, earning a reputation as Joeblow, why am I forced to start completely over when I want to experience something different in the game? Some games try to get around this, like City of Heroes implementing their global chat names, but that only hides the problem. Sure, you may know that I’m ProbablyNot in the global channels, but in game I’m Ishiro Takagi or Jhaer Snow or John Hellstrom or Calvin Meeks. My reputation becomes much harder to translate.

Lets take World of Warcraft as an example and expand on it. As I mentioned earlier, they do let you rebuild your talents. But why not let you re-spend your experience points? Now, I’m not suggesting allowing 100% free anytime character rebuilding. They already have the precedent of paying for talent resets, just make a new NPC who asks for money based on level for picking a new class. Would it really break the game to allow a level 70 Paladin pay 1,000 or even 2,000 gold to become a level 70 Warrior? Of course, if you were a gnome, you’d be restricted to gnome classes since the game restricts like that already. Allowing a gnome shaman might be game, if not just lore, breaking. But then, why not allow the player to pay 5,000 gold to switch races (restricted to those which allow his class)? Not only would this allow for players to play the character they want without starting over, it would also introduce new money sinks into the game, and games, especially those that keep expanding, can always use new desirable yet optional money sinks.

You could even, if there was a demand for it, allow people to strip themselves back to level 1. Even pay them for it. The warlocks need to power their machines with life-force, they’ll strip 69 levels from a level 70 player and pay him X gold. With that money a player could take their level 1, pay to change his class and/or race and level back up again, tread-milling the same character, the same name, over and over again, with reward, as opposed to alternate characters or deleting and restarting.

Following a similar model, most games could introduce this kind of mechanic. As long as the change had a price of some sort and was limited by location (must visit particular NPCs), the only real downside I can see would be players less likely to stick with classes or builds they feel are broken, which could increase developer knowledge of a problem’s existence, but might decrease the pool of incoming data to be able to properly examine it.

So, what say you?

A Party of One

Of late I have been fooling around in Guild Wars. I’ve long been interested in the game because of its “no monthly fee” design, and because of a little idea called “henchmen”.

All throughout my table top gaming days, whenever we needed a class, skill, or knowledge that the player characters did not possess, we would head on down to the local bars, adventurer guilds, docks or slave markets to find what we needed. So when getting into MMOs, at first, the idea that I needed to group with other people for everything was strange. Standing around waiting to find a healer because we needed one seemed like a waste of time. I eventually got over it and made friends and tried to make sure I always had a group. But increasingly over the last half dozen or so years, perhaps because I’m turning into the grouchy old man yelling at the kids to stay off his lawn, I’m just not as inclined as I used to be to put up with the Internet toddlers who like to “pwn” and “lol” and “zorz” their way through conversations. So, playing World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and Villains, Lord of the Rings Online, I would group with the people I already knew and maybe the occasional non-infantile gamer I ran across. But more often than not, I would solo.

I’m still soloing in Guild Wars (my wife injured her hand and hasn’t been much for gaming this month), but when I’m about to leave town and hit the quests, I’ll snag myself a couple or three henchmen. Just as in my table top games, these people aren’t the brightest bulbs in the pack. I play a mage, and so I’ll load up with a fighter, a ranger and a healer, and they do exactly as their class suggests. The fighter charges in and fights, the ranger stands back and shoots, and the healer heals. In fact, that’s all they do. The fighter will stand and fight until he dies, he doesn’t run. The ranger shoots, at any range. And the healer heals, if a monster hits her, she runs around like a chicken with its head cut off until the threat is over. I’ve heard there are better henchmen, but I’m only level 7 and my henchmen are level 3, plus I only own the original Prophesies game, none of the expansions, so either I haven’t gotten to the better ones yet, or I am incapable of getting to them.

Overall though, I’m liking the whole henchmen system. They don’t replace good players, but they sure beat crappy players. I would love to see something like this implemented in other games. Imagine City of Heroes with “henchmen” style sidekicks, allowing you to change up the game a little while still playing alone if you wanted.

I’d love to hear other people’s opinions and experiences. What do you think about NPC pets and henchmen in games?

The Pick-Up Group Dilemma

One of the banes of MMOs would appear to be, from scanning forums all over, the Pick-Up Group. More commonly known as a PUG, these are the random people you end up grouping with trying to accomplish goals in the MMO of your choice.

World of Warcraft has had the biggest impact of group expectations that I have seen due simply to the fact that when it comes to grinding experience points and other general gameplay every player can always say “Screw you guys, I’m going to go solo.” The only situations where that really isn’t true is most instances and raids. As a result, because every player has the viable option of soloing, they put up with less, but they also don’t try as hard.

Back in the age old days of EverQuest, where grouping was practically required because only certain classes could solo well and even then not everyone could do it (it made me weep sometimes to watch druids repeatedly screw up kiting), a player just couldn’t tell everyone to go away and run off by himself. You had to make the group work, or you had to find another group.

The good side of that is that the community on an EQ server was, in my opinion, much tighter than your typical WoW server. Forced grouping compounded with non-trivial travel and no rest bonuses for exp meant players tended to stick in one area for long periods and group with the same people again and again. Doing my tenure in Velketor’s knowing people meant that they understood I was a monk, a monk who knew how to pull, and capable of joining a group pretty much anywhere. When I went to look for a group in zone, it rarely took long at all for someone I’d previously grouped with to see me, invite me, and the fun would begin.

The bad side is that sometimes it was necessary to yell at people (or rather, to type at them furious in all CAPS). If you put together a full group at the front of Karnor’s Castle, proceeded inside to set up camp, and only then discovered that your bard was a spastic mental case, you might be forced to just suck it up and deal with him because even though he was crappy at his job, a crappy crowd control class was often better than no crowd control class. However, given that the spastic bard needed the group almost as much as you needed the bard, compromises would be met, adjustments to play style made, and the exp would again begin to flow.

City of Heroes is an example of a game that has tried to make the solo and group experiences equally fun. Almost any mission in the game can be done alone, but if you bring along five or six friends the mission will scale upward in a fairly predictable fashion. But, since the game goes largely without item drops and other things some MMOs depends on, CoH is actually able to provide a weird dichotomy between the two: solo play is much much more reliable for progression, you know your own class and you can go at your own pace; in a group, classes mesh together to provide new strategies but due to the size of the scaling encounters are usually more chaotic and “exciting”, providing a different rush than solo play. In both cases, you can flag your character or group to adjust the difficulty up or down to fine tune your experience.

Overall though, despite all the frustration bad groups gave me in EQ, I’d still prefer them to the eternally disbanding groups of WoW. CoH was a nice middle ground but might not mesh well with the item-centric design of other games.

What do you think about Pick-Up Groups?

Sony is retarded.

Normally I would refrain from insulting multi-national mega corporations, but in this case, at least from the perspective of the Sony Online Entertainment division that is over EverQuest, its a fact.

Go read the websites for the warriors, rogues and monks over the past year. Look at every idea they posted on how to bring melees back into balance.


Okay, warriors got new taunt skills. With the splitting of disciplines, all melees got a method to more often boost their damage through their use. Monks are getting (if it ever makes it off the test server) an essentially single target lull to assist in splitting spawns.

Now, do you remember all the other stuff you read? Ranged damage, group auras, directed attacks, etc, etc… SOE is implementing all that stuff too, only not for the people who need it. Instead, they are making a new class, the Berserker.

I mean, why enhance the classes you have when you can add a new one? Why make three classes better and more desirable to play when you can make yet another addition to the already overcrowded loot pool on raids?

When beastlords were introduced, they were nice. You could play in groups and you could solo. But in groups they really weren’t needed. Anyone can DPS, shaman have better buffs… so what to do? Why, give beastlords a unique skill! Lets give them a mana and hit points regen buff that stacks with just about everything. Give them a buff that works as a mass group buff heal. Basically, you see, they introduced a new class, then that class complained that they weren’t wanted on raids, so SOE made them desired for raids. So now we will get Berserkers, and then they will complain that they don’t have a role.. so SOE will find a way to give them one.

But most important to keep in mind about the berserker class, it is designed to do one thing.. attract new customers. At some point, there is an accountant at Sony who doesn’t care what is good for the game, nor what is good for its players, he only knows that a new player shells out $60 for a copy of the game with all the expansions, and that equals 3 or 4 months of an active account. So they want sales, and lots of them, because high sales means they financially buy 3 to 4 months to keep thinking of a way to keep the players playing, to keep them subscribed.

Mark my words. Gates of Discord will be released, and within 3 months, Berserkers will be tweaked, and the other melees will be told “With the expansion behind us, we can now address your concerns.”

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.