Getting back into traditional fantasy MMOs has of course led me to thinking about their flaws and my desire to correct them.
One of the long standing issues with the genre since EverQuest is the holy trinity of design: damage taking, damage prevention/recovery, damage dealing. And while games continue to try to include crafting and other non-combat elements, the vast majority of people actually want to kill things, so combat remains, and will remain, at the center of most game design. In this trinity mold, you end up with a tank, a healer, and then assorted damage dealing classes. Fighting runs the same, tank taunts to control where the damage goes, the healer heals the tank, and everyone else tries their best to make the tank’s job very very difficult.
Right now, tanking is all about hitting taunt abilities to focus the attention of the target on to the player and keep its damage output in one place where it can be measurably tracked and dealt with. As games have advanced over the years, taunt abilities have become more varied and interesting, but at their base they are about manipulation of the aggro list (the priority in which an NPC “hates” players) to put the tank at the top.
What I’m considering, and by no means is this a finished idea, but one that needs discussion, so please, discuss, is to replace taunt with a cover system. If Monster A is attacking Player B, rather than having Tank X target Monster A and click a taunt ability, saying “Hey stupid! Come get me!” (which always just seemed idiotic to me, from the stance of someone who enjoys role playing in games), you instead have Tank X target (or secondary target, or target of target, or whatever) Player B and click one of his new protection abilities, putting himself between Monster A and Player B and taking the damage.
This appeals most to me because it eliminates taunt, which from a role play and logic standpoint has always been broken. Why would a monster ever stop beating on the healer just because the invulnerable turtle is calling him names? Nope. Healers first, then those pesky damage dealing people who are killing me and lastly I’ll deal with the invulnerable turtle when he’s a little less invulnerable. On the other hand, the idea of a monster going after the healer and the invulnerable turtle stepping in between them, now that has merit. Effectively, we are taking away the roll of tank as we know it, and turning him into a healer type who utilizes shield/rune spells, preventing damage but not recovering it.
The main downside I see with this is the creation of the new role of DPS Tank. That’s where the player with the highest DPS becomes the defacto tank by virtue of doing the most damage while the healer heals him and the old tank protects him.
After quitting FarmVille I went I on to play a number of other Facebook Games, and for the most part, they all play the same. On one hand you have FarmVille, where you plant things and then wait for harvest. On the other hand you have Hero World, where you have an energy stat and you can click on things until your stat runs out and then you wait for the stat to recover. At best, the only real “game” there is in strategically deciding what to click before waiting.
Just yesterday, I decided to give SOE’s The Agency: Covert Ops game a try. In some aspects, it is the same as a bunch of other games: you click, you wait, etc. But in addition to that, as Darren posted about today, there are some actual games. Just in the few minutes I played, I was given a nifty game where a computer screen is asking for an access code and I am shown which letters on the keyboard have fingerprints and I have to guess the word. For example, the access code is a 5 letter words and the keys with prints are E, R, V and N. I type in N-E-V-E-R, success, and move on to the next word.
So, now I’m on the hunt for Facebook Games with actual Game in them rather than just clicking, waiting and spamming. I’m open to suggestions…
Looking at Facebook games I’m going to tackle a big one first: FarmVille. The idea behind the game is that you build a farm, harvest crops and stuff for money which you use to build more farm. There are two forms of money in the game, Coins and Cash. Coins are what you get naturally just playing the game for most actions, Cash is what you can buy with real dollars. Now, you can buy Coins with real dollars and you can get Cash through the game, but they are primarily obtained as first described. You can also visit your neighbors’ farms and do chores to help them out.
Ring around the Character
One of the first things you are likely to notice if you go visiting other people’s farms is that the majority of them have something like pictured to the right. A few carefully arranged objects, be they bales of hay or fences or whatever, so that your character can’t move. See, when you click on things in your farm, like land to plow or crops to harvest or cows to milk, your character will walk over to those things and then do the work. By restricting character movement, all actions are performed as you click on them instead of waiting for your character to walk to them. This, of course, is preferred since the game involves lots of clicking and, if you go on long enough, big farms with lots of walking. My farm doesn’t have this, because it looks stupid. However, I have noticed that many of my neighbors stopped coming to do chores at my farm after the first time or two because without me putting up the barrier it just takes too long for them to do chores.
Packed in like things that are packed in tightly
To the left here, you’ll see animals, the other large aspect of FarmVille. Animals wander around if you let them, but this can lead them to finding their way into places behind things where you can’t click them, so most people just place them, click them and issue the “stay” command so they don’t move around. As you get more animals, you need room for them and since space is scarce in this game, most people end up just packing the animals in a corner, sometimes in a pen, all lined up. It makes for easier care, though PETA would be very displeased. I let my animals wander, which only affects me since visitors interact with buildings (like chicken coops) and not individual animals. Overall, like the barriers, lines of animals looks stupid, but the game doesn’t reward you for pretty, it rewards you for clicks.
The game also rewards you for spam. I respect that FarmVille is intended to be a social game, but every time something happens in game there is a pop-up asking me if I want to post this event to my news feed. I tend not to do these because I find them to be tacky. Choosing that road limits my game, of course. When I do chores, sometimes I get prizes, like special mystery eggs for feeding people’s chickens, but I don’t really get those prizes. Instead, I get a pop-up that says I found an item to give away, and I have to post an announcement on my feed for people to click on so they can get the prize. I never see these posts from other people because I long ago hid the FarmVille application since the constant bombardment of posts was destroying my ability to actually read real feed updates from my friends. Facebook has evolved, and I probably could find a way to see what my friends have to say without game spam, but I’m too lazy to figure it out. So, since I don’t see people giving away stuff, I don’t give stuff away. Not by news feed spam anyway.
Reciprocity is the center of FarmVille. When someone gives you a gift, you are able to send them a thank you gift, and it is really easy to do. So in order to get gifts, you have to give some away. In order to maximize your advancement in the game, you need items and the best way to obtain those items is to give those items away. If, for instance, you want to build your stable for horses, you need items like nails and bricks and harnesses. The best way to get those is to give them to other people. It is sort of accepted in these games that if someone gives you an item, when you thank them with a return gift you should give them the same thing back. So, give to others what you want to get for yourself. Don’t worry about the cost, giving gifts is free, but I believe Facebook imposes a limit on the number of “invites” a game can send out per day, so make sure you only send to people who always return the love. This is also why FarmVille is constantly asking you to post things to your news feed, because there is no limit to how often a game can post to your feed.
So, beyond the clicking and the gifting, what is there to do in FarmVille? Design your farm! However, very few people really do this as a good looking farm is less efficient than it can be, so most farms are just clumps of money earning with little eye for design. I wanted to make my farm look as farmy as possible, but the game hindered me in that because a number of items, most noticeably many buildings, cannot be rotated. This restricts the number of places I can put these items and have them make sense. In the end, I was frustrated that I couldn’t get my farm to look the way I wanted. All the pieces were there, I just wasn’t allowed to arrange them in the way I wanted. This led me to not caring about my farm, which led me to playing less. I began intentionally choosing crops that matured in 4 days so that I could return less often. This decision restricted my choices of crops which further led me to not want to play.
Overall, the game is boring. This parody commercial actually captures much of what I feel about the game.
Back to the beginning of this review, Coins and Cash. FarmVille is made by Zynga and if you’ve been floating around the gaming end of the Intarweb you might have heard two things about them. First, they have made buckets and buckets of money. Second, they made that money, in part, by scamming people. Games on Facebook make money in three ways if I understand it correctly. The first is the old Internet standby of Ad impressions and clicks. The second is direct sales (buying game cash). The third is through partner referrals. The third one is where the trouble pops up. Essentially, you go into the game and click on the tab to buy game Cash and down at the bottom they have a bunch of deals. You can buy 115 Cash for $20 direct, but they’ll give you 127 Cash if you click the Blockbuster link and sign up for an account (and pay for at least one month). Now, from the consumer perspective, the Blockbuster link is the best deal because you can get a plan for $4.99 a month (plus some taxes and fees) and cancel after 1 month: 127 Cash for $5. The reason they do this is Blockbuster is betting that they’ll turn enough of those first month people into subscribers (and they probably have details statistics that say something like 1 in 10 people who sign up remain subscribers for a year, 1 in 10 for 6 months, 3 in 10 for 3 months, and so on), so Blockbuster kicks back to Zynga an amount of cash per person that makes them want you to do the partner link instead of giving them a straight $20. In fact, the values of Cash purchased direct are more than likely priced specifically to make you prefer the partner links. $5 with Zynga only gets you 25 Cash, but $5 with Blockbuster gets you 127. Where would you rather spend your $5?
But where does the scam come in? It is in the other links. You see, many people don’t want the hassle of signing up for Blockbuster, even if it is the “better” deal, so they’d rather just give cash for Cash. Zynga directly accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and Paypal. But not everyone has credit cards or use Paypal, however just about everyone has a cell phone. Through a number of partners, Zynga accepts payment through cell phone. You just click a link and then text a code to a number and you get your Farm Cash and the charge is just added to your next cell phone bill. How easy is that? Super easy!! What is usually hard to tell, though, and is where people cry foul, is that some of these cell phone pay services charge a monthly service fee. So while you might jump at the chance to send $20 to Zynga for FarmVille and just tack that $20 on your phone bill, the company handling all that money moving is going to require (usually in the fine print and terms of service that 99.99999999999% of people foolishly never read) that you subscribe to their service (which you do by simply authorizing the original charge with that code you text) which is often anywhere from $9.99 to $19.99 a month. And, naturally, Zynga gets a kickback on that. We could argue until the sun burns out about who is responsible, the consumer for not reading the terms, the service company for not making them more prominent instead of buried in legal jargon, or Zynga for not mentioning that those services charge a fee, but at the end the truth is that they are all responsible. People should pay attention, service companies should be required by law to clearly and prominently explain their fees, and Zynga should section off those alternate payment methods under a label that says they charge a fee.
At the end of the day, FarmVille gets a “C” for being mildly amusing yet boring and annoying, but Zynga gets a giant “F” for being unapologetic money grubbing douchebags. Making money isn’t evil, but you don’t have to be a dick about it.
For my inaugural GameTap review, I decided to hit one of the original games designed for the service – Sam & Max: Season One. If you don’t know who Sam & Max are, take a moment and quickly skim through the Wikipedia entry. As a kid, I read a few of the comics, but I wasn’t a collector. And at 18, I played the video game. I always enjoyed the humor, and I’m happy to say the humor isn’t lost here in Season One. Playing through the game was fun and funny for the writing, the dialog.
Actually playing the game, on the other hand, was alternately boring and frustrating. Sam & Max is one of those “click on everything” games. You drag your mouse pointer around the screen and when an object is highlighted, you click on it and you’ll either interact with it, pick it up, or talk to it. Items in your inventory are picked up, your mouse pointer changes and now when you click on things you’ll try to use that item on the object. Its also one of those “you can’t lose” games. There is no time limit. Every mistake, no matter how bad, loops back into the story, in fact, is actually part of the story if you want to hear all the witty dialog. When I say boring and frustrating, what I mean is that the puzzles in the game were either a) painfully obvious and amounted to just making sure I clicked the objects in the right order, or b) painfully obtuse. I won’t ruin the game by using an example from it, instead I will use a classic maddening example from the walk through of the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure:
Firstly, eat the nuts. If you don’t, you will die of protein loss. Take off your gown, and hang it up on the hook. Then, get the towel and put it over the drain. Wait until Ford is asleep, then nick his satchel and put it in front of the panel. Put the junk mail on the satchel, then press the dispenser button. A babel fish will land in your ear, and you will be able to understand all languages.
Nothing in Sam & Max is quite that bad, but sometimes it does feel like it, especially when you are missing just one element of the “logic” and failing over and over again.
Overall, I love the art style of the games, and the humor, but as a “game” I’d almost rather be watching a cartoon or reading a comic book.
I could swear I’ve posted about using mini-games for tradeskills before, but damned if I can’t find it. Not here, not on blogs I frequent, not on message boards I visit.
In any event, what I’ve posted before is that I don’t agree with either extreme. World of Warcraft’s click and create method is just so lifeless, no skill required at all. Then there are games like EQ2 which required you to “battle” your crafting every single time (no idea if this has changed, but that’s how it was when I last played).
What I think I would love to see is a system where a mini-game is used to set a “quality” bar, or several to set several bars, and then click and create to actually craft the items. Expertise in the mini-game would equate to better crafting, but once set you wouldn’t have to play over and over just to make items if you are happy with the items you are making.
Anyway, not going in to much depth here, just a broad stroke idea… thoughts?
My life has become noticeably easier since I began using an RSS feed reader for all my favorite sites. Not only does it ensure I don’t forget to check a site, but I have been able to start reading from more sites.
One web site I always love reading is Snopes. If you don’t know them, visit them and enjoy. They like to debunk, or sometimes bunk (or is debunk like disgruntled and the root word isn’t really a word), stories. Today’s gem is about an email scam involving fake IRS investigations.
Being in computers, and having actually been a domain and system admin that involved working with email servers, you might think I would be numb by now to the dumb things that people will click. Spam email comes in many forms, but to me at least they have always seemed obvious. I don’t bank with BB&T, so its odd that they send one of my accounts forty seven emails a day about money I don’t have with them. Almost every email that comes in regarding a pharmacy, drug prescriptions, Viagra, Cialis, or any number of other drugs… not real, and if I did have a need for any of those, I would not buy them from an unsolicited email, I’d get a prescription from my own doctor. And I would never take a mortgage from a bank that sends me a random email, especially when its not addressed to me.
Seriously folks, if you don’t know the person sending you the email, take a minute and read it, consider it, and 999,999 times out of a million delete the thing without clicking on the links.
And another safety precaution, if a company sends you an email that says, “Click here and enter your account information!” Even if it looks valid, even if it is valid, don’t click there… go directly to their website yourself and log in to your account manually.
The canned meat food product substitute is okay, and should the world go zombie overnight, you can bet your ass that I will be down at the Safeway hoarding the precious little tins of yummy life sustaining goodness. But when it comes to the internet, I hate Spam.
My blog here isn’t awfully popular. Even so, I get on the order of a hundred spam comments a day. Thankfully, being the slightest of blips on the radar means that my spam filter catches 99.999% of them. Once a week or so, I’ll have a few make it through, and I delete them within a day. One day, if I ever get an audience, I may have to install more protection as Akismet may not be enough. Sadly, it probably won’t matter since there are people like this out there.
Of course, emails are another story. I get over five hundred a day. Again, my filter gets alot of it, but some makes it through every day.
And finally, there are the people out there who click on this junk… if you need viagra, see a doctor, don’t click a link in an email or on a website. Same goes for all the other drugs… and for loans, go to a bank or other lender, not something from your inbox especially if it is not actually addressed to you! People… PEOPLE! Please… pay attention, be responsible.
So, I’m not really a fan of Dean Koontz. I read a couple of his books years ago and something about his writing style just didn’t click with me. Sadly, that has not changed with Odd Thomas.
I picked up the book because it was in the bargain bin. Books-A-Million had some UK versions of a couple of his books reduced for quick sale, so I picked them up to give him another try.
Lets begin with the titular character, Odd Thomas. No, Odd is not an adjective, it really is his first name. Fitting since Odd has the ability to see dead people, occasionally have prophetic dreams, and to see dark shapes he calls bodachs which don’t appear to have any affect on the world but do seem to gather and thrive off violent deaths. And predictably enough, he sees dead people, has a prophetic dream, and notices and unusually large gathering of bodachs in his small town of Pico Mundo.
Was is a bad book? Not really. The story was engaging enough, and the characters were well defined enough, and the appearance of Elvis Presley in places in the book made me smile. But… I don’t know… something about the manner of the telling of the tale just left me… dry. With a really good book, it makes my eyes hurt. I am mildly in need of reading glasses. Regular book print held at reading distance for lengths of time will cause my eyes to hurt, even give me a headache after a while. I can counteract this by looking away from the book and focusing on something distance for fifteen or twenty seconds every five minutes or so. If a book is really good, I’ll forget to do that, and after an hour of solid reading, when I look up, my vision will be blurry and my eyes will water and hurt. Odd Thomas didn’t do that for me, not even close.
I was certain the book was going to end one of two ways, and Dean Koontz didn’t surprise me, although at least it was the better ending of the two I imagined. There is a sequel to this called Forever Odd, and I might pick it up, but I’m in no rush. It was good for a read, but nothing I’d overwhelmingly recommend.
One thing I feel is really lacking in pretty much all MMORPGs is actual player skill. With their simplistic auto-attack or even button/click feat based scenarios there is very little room for the player to really control how good their character is at fighting. Even in games like City of Heroes where there isn’t really an auto-attack, your skill is hamstrung by the limitations of the game mechanics, which in CoH is the recharge time and choice/placement of expansion slots.
FPS games are all about skill. Well, except when the game allows scripting/macroing. People who used the rocket-jump scripts in Quake were cheaters in my book, people who did it without a script were talented. But that aside, every player runs the same speed and has access to the same weapons, and what separates the players is how well they use the guns and know the maps.
However, in making combat more skill based, I don’t want to lose the players who actually prefer auto-attack. So consider this…
The default configuration is auto-attack. You equip a sword and run up to the monster and hit attack. Your weapon will do average damage, perhaps with a random chance to score a critical hit and do double damage. This model is enough to play the game. You won’t be the best in the world, but you will do alright. Then, on an option screen, you are able to select several levels of skill based control. For example, you can choose the “fighting style” method which presents your character with a list of pre-set sword grip and fighting styles. Each style has advantages and disadvantages, base-lined on the auto-attack, and you select them and use them. Then on the furthest end of the scale is “complete control” where your joystick controls your sword arm and your keyboard moves your feet, you gain the ability to move the sword in whatever way you choose to hamstring opponents or stab at the eyes, but you also have your damage affected by your movement because “strafing” around a target you’ll have much less power than if you plant your feet and put your whole body into the swing.
It would obviously take alot of effort to work out all the details, but the gist is that you allow the player to decide how much skill they want to use in the game. The less skill they use, the move “average” their character is; the more skill, the more chances for heroics.