Tag Archive for element

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.

Removing Grouping – Part IV

Communications and status updates were easy problems, relatively.  Especially compared with the mine field of the reward structure.  The next element I want to look at is content gating.

Many games implement areas where only one group can enter.  Or two groups, or five groups, etc.  When the designers put a cap on the number of people that can enter, it allows them to more reasonably design content.  If group size is 5 and you limit the dungeon to a single group, you can make content and then test it with varying groups of 5 characters much more easily than trying to design content to scale in challenge as the number of people increases.  Something that is challenging for a group of 5 might be trivial to a group of 10.  Of course, a formal group structure isn’t required for this, as the number of players within an instance can be maintained by the instance itself.  You could even place a UI element called “People in Instance” that would provide you a list of the players in the instance for easy selection and pinning to your UI.

After a long look, it actually seems that the main benefit of groups to content gating is actually in getting people who intend to play together into the same instance do they can play together.  Getting around this winds up being overly complicated with solutions like having one player enter the instance and then inviting each other player to join him.  That first player being designated the instance “leader”, a job he will pass off to someone else if he quits playing.  Then you have issues of players wipes, when everyone gets killed.  How does the game keep track of who belongs to this instance?  Is it because you have a dead body in there to recover?  If you get frustrated and log off for the night, is the group now permanently down a player because you left your body in the instance so the game holds your place?  Again, it looks like if you wished to remove the group mechanic from the game, like with reward sharing, you wind up needing to examine the entire game from the ground up and make changes all over in places where the group mechanic was either planned on or taken for granted.

Designed to Grow

As an offshoot to the discussion over at Psychochild’s blog concerning Dread and Hope in Lord of the Rings Online, I wanted to expand on something I touched on in my comments there.

Originally, dread and hope in LotRO was a flavor.  It danced around the edges of your play.  You would run into a little dread and have to find a way to combat it, either through adding hope or just by more cautious play, going slow instead of rushing in due to your reduced stats making your character less effective.  However, as the game has expanded and they’ve raised level caps and added new content, they fell into the same trap that has caught every other game.  Dread and hope aren’t just flavor anymore, they are now a core mechanic.  There is content you cannot participate in without enough hope, so people are forced to wear the radiant gear that provides it, limiting choices.  In the future, I expect as people complain about not having choices, more hope gear will become available so that it opens up more choices to the players, which in turn will trivialize hope and it will become like the other stats on items: mostly ignored as long as you keep enough of it around.

The failing here, at least in my opinion, is that they designed something that was pretty awesome as a flavor to the game, that added a narrative and story element to the game that also was based in the mechanics of play, but didn’t, in their core initial design, plan for expansion.  Because they didn’t leave room for the core to grow, they’ve had to co-opt the flavor and make it core in order to give players somewhere to advance that wasn’t just more of the same.  Personally, I liked dread and hope the way they were, and feel they’ve lost something with it becoming “just another stat” that characters min/max.

Of course, I’m also a proponent of games with less “advancement” (usually found in the form of grinding levels and stats, mathematical increases) and more “story” (more places to go, more things to do).  For me, gear in games is just the tool that allows me to pass the artificial barriers the designers placed in game to wall off content.  I’d prefer they didn’t wall off the content and just let me experience it as I came to it.  But then, MMOs make their money off time invested under the subscription model, and if they allowed me to play the whole game at the speed I wanted, they’d get less of my time, but more of my support, which, ironically gets them more of my money as I’m more likely to remain subscribed to a game with lots to see and great story over one that is just a gear grind-fest.

Anyway, back to my original point… most games seem to run into this as they mudflate, as each expansion raises the level cap and they go looking for new ways for people to need to grind out more gear.  They co-opt every element of design and turn them all into points on a scale and suck all the fun and flavor out of them.  I dread games that grow like this, and hope games in the future can avoid it.

Gods in Games

One element that seems to follow around many fantasy genre MMOs is the idea of putting the lore’s gods in the game as defeatable content.  Largely, when this happens, it leads to my arguments of why I feel raiding is stupid.  Its not that I think the act of raiding or the existence of raid content is stupid, I just feel that often times it is done poorly.  I always love beating up on EverQuest at times like these… so lets continue the trend.  In the Planes of Power expansion, they put in a long series of flags with a lore to back up the players storming the planes, the homes of the gods, and killing them.  You fight and kill pretty much all the gods on the EQ Pantheon, and at the end of the story ***Spoiler!*** one of the surviving gods makes time go backwards to before you went through the Plane of Time and killed off all the gods for good.  Actually, not too bad of a story, and if this were a fantasy novel, that’d be a fairly nifty end to a series.

The problem, of course, is that EverQuest didn’t end.  There have been more expansions and more mudflation, and now you can defeat the god of fire with a single group.  There are insignificant monsters in the new worlds that put the gods to shame.

Wait… what?

Exactly.  The biggest hurdle with putting gods into your game as defeatable content is that, unless it really is the end of your game, your gods will become trivial content in the future.

In my opinion, the gods, and the true homes of the gods, should never exist in the game world.  Your players should, at best, fight the creations of gods, avatars of the gods imbued with power, but distinct from the gods themselves.  If you feel that you must absolutely put the gods in your games, consider making them nigh unkillable.